Interview: Jenn Wexler, Writer/Director Of Horror Film ‘The Ranger’
By Dr. Zaius
Tuesday, August 21st, 2018 at 11:00 am
Thursday night I attended the premiere for a new punk rock horror film The Ranger at the IFC Center in New York City. Combining the cultural aesthetic and vibe of Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead with the menacing expanse of Wolf Creek, The Ranger is a kickass slasher flick with a pulsing punk soundtrack that introduces a truly memorable new horror villain. All weekend long, director and co-writer Jenn Wexler along with members of the cast and crew, participated in Q&As after the screenings. Wexler, a first-time director, has worked as a producer for Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix, which focuses on New York-based independent film, many in the horror genre. I got a chance to speak with Wexler about her film, her influences, and her career.
Geeks Of Doom: How has everything been going? I know The Ranger is still running at the IFC Center.
Jenn Wexler: It’s been awesome. It’s been cool because we’ve had different moderators every night. Larry [Fessenden] was there last night for the Q&A. We’ve been trying to change it up and bring in new people every night.
Geeks Of Doom: And you’re getting good crowds?
Jenn Wexler: Yeah, we’ve been pretty full each night.
Geeks Of Doom: As a first-time director, what’s this experience been like for you: observing crowds reacting to your film, asking questions, and generally being a part of this whole process?
Jenn Wexler: It’s so cool. I thought I knew the process because I had produced a couple of films and gone through this process from a producing perspective, but emotionally I discovered it’s a whole different ride when it’s this thing that you lived and breathed in a room for so long and now its out and strangers are seeing it and strangers are asking you about it.
Geeks Of Doom: I loved the film. I told you Thursday night it felt like Return of the Living Dead meets Wolf Creek.
Jenn Wexler: I love that.
Geeks Of Doom: How would you describe The Ranger to somebody who hasn’t seen it yet?
Jenn Wexler: It’s a mix of glitter and gore, it’s a slasher movie with the color palette of Lisa Frank. It’s punks vs. park ranger.
Geeks Of Doom: Obviously punk rock plays a huge role in this film. What is your connection to punk rock, the music, and the lifestyle and how do you translate that into your film?
Jenn Wexler: I grew up in suburbia in New Jersey and my town was really boring as a teenager. I discovered adventure and I discovered this world where individuality and creativity were embraced in the punk scene, going to shows as a young teenager. It was a place where I could throw my body around and allow music to fully take over me. That was so different from the way I spent the rest of my days, which was just going to high school with a lot people who weren’t into the same stuff that I was into. It’s the same thing with horror. I discovered horror movies as a teenager also and these were both total escapes for me. I think a lot of things that you spend time loving as a kid become a part of your identity as you grow older. My classmate in college wrote this screenplay for The Ranger and I immediately connected with these punks who go up against this park ranger because it totally symbolized rebellion vs. authority. I just knew what it looked like, I knew it had to be colorful, I knew all of this really before I understood filmmaking. Years later after producing a few movies for Glass Eye Pix, I was trying to figure out which movie I wanted to direct as my first feature I remembered Giaco’s [Furino] concept and asked if we could work on it together. There was just so much of who I was as a teenager and still am that I knew I could put into this.
Geeks Of Doom: Horror is definitely one of those things that makes you feel like an outcast when you’re younger, but then you get older and see how big the scene is, you feel a lot more comfortable.
Jenn Wexler: Absolutely. When you’re young in high school everyone else seemed like a square and you were the outcast, but then you realize everyone probably felt like the outcast at different points in their lives. Not everyone realizes how cathartic horror can be. There are still people who turn their noses up at horror. Certainly for anyone who gives horror a chance, they discover how helpful it is.
Geeks Of Doom: I agree. Let’s talk about The Ranger himself. Jeremy Holm plays this character like a force of nature and I feel the potential is there for him to be an all-time classic villain. What’s it like writing and directing this character and the actor playing him?
Jenn Wexler: Thank you for saying that. So Giaco and I were writing this script with Jeremy Holm in mind because Giaco and Jeremy were friends. He told me to check out Jeremy Holm and I watched episodes of Mr. Robot and House of Cards that he was in and I fell in love with everything about him. He looks like an evil superman. That was all even before I even met him. Then we sent him the script and he really liked it and right from that first meeting we really connected. He started going into The Ranger character while we were sitting there and he was terrifying me at the table so I knew, Yes, this is going to be great. And Jeremy is really funny, on set in between takes he’d still be in character and come up behind people whispering creepy thing in their ears. He used the song “Most Beautiful Girl” to get into character on set and we all fell in love with that song and we ended up getting the song for the movie.
Geeks Of Doom: With The Ranger there are a lot of horror tropes. Kids running into the woods, a cabin, a crazed killer. Yet somehow it feels totally original because the characters work so against stereotype. Was that something you did intentionally?
Jenn Wexler: Yeah, it was absolutely. The movie is filled with horror tropes, but that’s because Giaco and I love, love, love “cabin in the woods” movies and love slashers and we grew up with this stuff so all of this is baked into our brains. But then I think we really started to make the characters like us. I know I poured a lot of my real-life struggles into the Chelsea character, except I never knew a psychotic park ranger. We really wanted to make the rest of the punks a family of kids. They make fun of each other and annoy one another, but at their heart, they love each other. That was representative of the ways my friends acted when we were in high school. They all came from a real place. Even the Ranger, while yes we wanted to make him a heightened comic book-esque killer, we still wanted their to be humanity to him. He’s a guy at the heart of it who’s trying to connect with someone and he’s chosen Chelsea to connect with.
Geeks Of Doom: I know you mentioned this at the Q&A Thursday that you worked with Larry Fessenden at Glass Eye Pix, and he has a small role in the film. Can you speak a bit about how Larry and Glass Eye and their impact in your career so far?
Jenn Wexler: Absolutely. I was working for FearNet and I was doing marketing there, but I really wanted to do film production and I started watching Glass Eye movies and became obsessed with them and when I moved to NY I was able to meet him and start working. I produced four or five features and at one point I told Larry I really wanted to direct and I gave him The Ranger and he was so, so supportive. The project was selected to go to Frontieres, a co-production market at the Fantasia Film Festival and Larry went up with me and we did the pitch together for a room full of industry finance people and out of Frontieres we teamed up with Andrew van den Houten and Hood River Entertainment. Andrew, I was fan of because I really loved his movies Jug Face and All Cheerleaders Die. In terms of casting Larry as the uncle in The Ranger, I knew when Giaco and I were writing it, I said, “And Larry’s going to play the uncle.” That was the first person. I’ve seen Larry in a lot of horror movies working at Glass Eye and I’ve watched him die in a lot of horror movies and I felt it was a rite of passage as a Glass Eye Pix filmmaker to have him die in The Ranger.
Geeks Of Doom: So what’s next for The Ranger and what’s next for you as a filmmaker?
Jenn Wexler: This week we’re going to London, we’re the opening night film for FrightFest. Then we’ll be playing the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles for our LA premiere. We’re going to be playing some other festivals around the world throughout the Fall and we’ll be announcing our streaming distribution very soon. Right now, Glass Eye Pix is in post-production on Larry’s new movie Depraved, which is a modern-day Frankenstein movie set in Brooklyn. As a writer/director, I’m developing a few projects so we’ll see what happens next.
Geeks Of Doom: Thank you so much for your time and good luck with everything with The Ranger!
Jenn Wexler is another up and coming triple threat and as her career continues on a level of her first film, we’ll be talking about her for a very long time. The Ranger is still at the IFC Center at 323 6th Avenue in The Village in New York City through Thursday, August 23, 2018. Go out of your way to see it as it’s one of the best horror films of 2018 thus far. Find out more about The Ranger and other Glass Eye Pix features at glasseyepix.com and follow the film @TheRangerMovie on twitter.
You can also check out my review of The Ranger: here.