How far are you willing to go to take back what has been taken from you?...
...At what point do you throw in the towel and give up or do you push through every obstacle thrown at you to reach the finish line?
These are the questions we find our protagonist Mel (Celeste M Cooper) asking herself after being robbed and left to fend for herself while hiking in the woods. Range Runners, directed by Phillip Plowden and written with Devon Colwell, is part survival film, part revenge thriller, and all heart.
While the trailer and synopsis alone lead you to think you know what you’re in for, the film itself has a surprising amount of depth. What amazed me the most about watching this film was the amount of heart and humanity it held from the first moment we meet Mel to our final moments before the credits rolled.
By the end, the film felt like a complete circle not only in terms of the story but also Mel’s character development, which is due to the amazing acting by Celeste M Cooper. While at first you aren’t really sure about who Mel is, there's this sort of silent intensity to her like you would often see in characters that very much put their walls up to keep others from seeing what’s underneath. But this film will knock away those walls quite literally. Cooper delivers not only a great emotional and human performance but also handles the physicality with such ease that there were times where it felt like I was watching an 80s action film in the style of First Blood or Predator, and there are hints to that in Richie Palys’ score.
Cooper as Mel isn't the only standout, however. Despite having few speaking lines, Mariah Gordon’s portrayal of a younger Mel in the flashback scenes effectively showcases her ability to emote and connect us to Mel’s present. The flashbacks are an interesting storytelling dynamic that at first make you wonder, “why these specific scenes?”. By the third flashback you begin to realize that these training scenes between Mel and her father are a way for them to connect and for him to communicate with her in the present, like a ghost or guardian angel motivating her through her journey.
Both Gordon and Cooper have very promising careers ahead of them and I look forward to seeing their future endeavors.
Range Runners is about more than just Mel’s journey. It has a small but memorable supporting cast with great performances from Carl Clemons-Hopkins as Mel’s father, Howard, and Tiffany Renee Johnson as Chloe. One scene in particular between Cooper and Johnson stood out to me, as it gave us this great insight into their characters and by itself would’ve made for a great short or one act.
Shot in the Shawnee National Forest in Carbondale, Illinois, the woods we explore alongside Mel feel like a character themselves with beautiful shots of the natural environment that acts as sort of a guardian over Mel, sometimes blanketing her in safety in the form of a hiking shelter or a stunning waterfall or rock face.
Plowden’s story of vengeance and survival exceeded my expectations. There were aspects of the reasons behind Mel’s hiking through the woods that resonated with me and will no doubt resonate with others, especially those that have lost loved ones.
Overall, although Range Runners starts off slow, it allows you the chance to breathe and get to know our characters so that when things take a turn, you find yourself rooting for Mel no matter what she’s going through. When the odds are stacked against her and it appears she may give up, we root for her. When she’s being a total badass, we root for her even harder.
There is a line in Range Runners that seems to echo the sentiments of Alfred’s “Why do we fall?” line from Batman Begins. The words are simple, but enough to get you back on your feet and ready to keep fighting: “The clock’s still ticking.”
Range Runners comes to VOD and DVD from Uncork’d Entertainment and Dark Star Pictures September 8th.
By Kalani Landgraf