Now playing on the festival circuit is Jenn Wexler's The Ranger, and I hope you check it out if it plays in a town near you, because this ’80s-inspired punk slasher has a lot of character and a big, bloody heart. The film's lead actors, Chloe Levine and Jeremy Holm (who plays The Ranger) are a big reason why this movie works so well, and I had a chance to sit down with both of them this past weekend at the Fantasia Film Festival.
I didn't have a chance to see The Ranger until just recently, and I loved it. The movie’s so raw, it's snappy, and the character work, especially between the two of you, is fantastic. How did you each get approached to make this movie, because I know that Jenn kind of pitched it here [at Frontières Market]. How did she end up with the two of you?
Chloe Levine: I met Jenn Wexler at South by Southwest in 2017. I was there with a movie called The Transfiguration. I got her script and I was like, "Well damn, I want to do this," and I heard that she was at the festival, so it was about just tracking her down and meeting up with her. I really was instantly taken with her and when we went back to New York, we did some chemistry reads and it worked out.
Jeremy Holm: I used to work with [co-writer] Giaco Furino a long time ago and he called me probably four years ago and said, "Hey, I'm writing this screenplay and your face keeps coming up, would you like to read it?" I read it and I just shredded through it. Sometimes you start reading something and you put it away and then it's like Sisyphus, you gotta get done with it. In this case, it was like time travel. Time collapsed and I was done and I immediately called him. I said, "I'm in," and then I didn't hear from him and I thought, Oh well that's one of these things that never happens.
Then, a few years later, he called me up and said, "Hey, we're doing it if you're available and interested," and I was definitely interested and my team got together and figured out a way to make it work. I met Chloe at Chelsea Piers, which is like a rehearsal studio in New York. We read through a scene together. We were probably terrible, cause we were mainly just looking at the other person, seeing if we could possibly trust each other.
But you know what I remember about that? You weren't acting, you were just there, you were just her, and I knew I was acting and I was like, "Oh man, how will I keep up with her in this film?" And that’s when I knew I wanted to do it.
Chloe Levine: That's insane for me to hear. That's an insane thing you just said.
Jeremy Holm: It's 100% true.
So many indie slasher movies are made each year, and the difference here is that The Ranger focuses on character first over the action and kills. After meeting in New York, how much time did you have to get together and rehearse before filming?
Jeremy Holm: There was no rehearsal. We just went right into it. I had the script way further in advance than you would usually get it, so I would get up every morning, and then I'd try to work on one scene.
I was raised in the mountains of Colorado, a very up-in-the-mountains kind of place, and I just knew this place [from the script]. It seemed real to me and though we didn't rehearse, once we got there in the mountains of Upstate New York, I was pretty comfortable with everything about it. That comfort came from the trust I had in Jenn and in the script and in Chloe.
Chloe Levine: Yeah, it sometimes isn't that great to rehearse, and this was one of those times where we just went for it immediately. We were fortunately so in it all the time.
Jeremy Holm: A lot of what you see in the movie are first or maybe second takes. A lot of movies have 10 or 20 takes and that's not the case with this movie.
Can you talk about working with Jenn Wexler? Obviously with one or two takes there isn’t a whole lot of room for experimentation. When it came to developing these characters, was there a lot of collaboration beforehand or anything that really changed during filming?
Chloe Levine: Before we started filming, Jenn and I talked a lot about questions that I had and we went through some main scenes that happen in the movie and she was really lovely. I was always texting her and she was always very accessible. Then, when we were filming, I would ask if I could add something, or change something, and she was usually very cool about it.
Jeremy Holm: Jenn definitely knew what she wanted—there was never any doubt. Sometimes there was ambiguity, the good kind. But there was never doubt about what the end goal was or the feeling of it. The other thing is, everyone on set was so into the movie and so into the making of it. From the hair and makeup folks to craft services, everybody wanted to make the best movie we could make. And when you're up all night in the middle of the forest and it's cold and kind of disembodied because you hear noises, and birds are starting to sing because they're waking up in the morning, and people are still up for it, they're ready to shoot—to me, that supported all the work that we had done getting ready to shoot each scene.
There are some incredibly intense physical moments and kills involving your characters. What was it like on set to work through those big choreographed scenes and kills?
Jeremy Holm: One of my first questions was, "Who's doing the makeup?" And it was Brian Spears and his assistant, Ashley, and I knew that they were going to be great. We had a stunt coordinator and that was essential to keep us safe. Also, the script is written in a smart way where it's easy to use movie magic.
My focus was on authenticity of what was physically happening. So, if something wasn't going to look right, we would talk about it right before we shot it and we would figure out a way to make it look right. There are a lot of small stunts in the film and a couple of big ones and then some film magic that happens, and Jenn was really smart in knowing when to use which paint brush in her palette. There's a very physical scene between Chloe and I, and we just had to trust each other that it was gonna work. It was totally safe, but if there was any hesitation, it probably would have been dangerous.
Chloe Levine: It was so lovely to do such insane stunts with Jeremy. We really trust each other and it was essential to keep us safe and also keep it authentic. It was definitely physically demanding, but so incredibly fun.
Did you watch anything to prepare for your roles? Obviously this movie has slasher influences and there are tons of genre movies to draw inspiration from.
Jeremy Holm: I watched about a hundred movies that I had on my list. I said, "I'm gonna watch 100 horror movies," because I've never done a horror movie and I've never played a role like this. I knew that I had no idea the genre I was working in, so I had to get up to speed on that. So, I watched 100 various films, and I got lists from Heather Buckley, who I call Dr. Buckley, because she's like an encyclopedia of horror. I also asked Jenn for her list, and I asked Giaco for his list.
Then, I made my wife watch all these movies and man, you start having these weird dreams. You start having to imagine how you would kill… it's really weird what it does. I got a lot of my rage out. It's great.
What were some of the movies that stand out?
Jeremy Holm: The Cabin in the Woods, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Stitches…. the humor in that movie is awesome. Oh, and Grizzly. The kitsch, but the authentic feel of Grizzly was incredible. All of the Sleepaway Camp movies….
You’re getting into some deep cuts with those Sleepaway Camp sequels…
Jeremy Holm: Here's a weird one. How about Little House on the Prairie as a reference for me? And I was thinking a lot about Andy Griffith and I was thinking a little bit about Jack Palance.
I can definitely see that because there’s something classic or timeless about how you play The Ranger. And we don’t know exactly when the movie is set, so there’s a timelessness about it that I really love.
Chloe, what were some of the movies you watched? I'm sure you have some lists as well.
Chloe Levine: I wasn’t a really big horror movie person, but I am more now because of this movie. I didn't really know what a “Final Girl” was, so Jenn gave me A Nightmare on Elm Street, Alien, and Mad Max: Fury Road.
How has this festival experience been for you, seeing a live audience shouting, clapping, laughing, and really getting into it?
Jeremy Holm: I've actually thought a lot about this because I was so surprised by the openness and the genuine affection in the horror community. I think it's because people who know horror have figured out that it’s a way to come to grips with our own mortality and conquer it. Someday a coroner is gonna look at every single one of us. I had no idea that this experience and this kind of movie would be uplifting and gratifying, and it made me happy, which is weird, right?
Chloe Levine: When it premiered at South by Southwest, the audience was so into it. It was so incredible to sit in an audience and watch it for the first time and hear everybody experience it. It's been really incredible.