Brazilian effort Motorrad is a grindhouse-flavored horror thriller with aspirations of being an allegorical work. In settling for occasional odd phenomena, esoteric symbols, and other puzzle pieces sprinkled throughout, however, it ultimately feels like a by-the-numbers slasher tale — with a bit of Mad Max-style desperation thrown in for good measure — of an isolated group in the wilds, with some deliberate ambiguity tacked on.
The first 13 minutes of the film are among its most interesting, as Hugo (Guilherme Prates) breaks into a garage to steal a carburetor in a sequence without dialogue. Paula (Carla Salle) saves him from being shot by the shop’s owner, gives him the motorcycle part, and then vanishes behind a door. Hugo was taking the carburetor to repair his brother Ricardo’s (Emilio de Mello) cycle to win enough favor that he could accompany Ricardo and his friends on a joyride around the inhospitable area near where they presumably live. The group finds a rock wall where they swear there should simply be a metal gate, and take apart a section so that they can ride through to the other side. They soon meet Paula, who tells them she knows of a great place to explore. This decision was a bad one, as the group is soon pursued by a mysterious band of motorcyclists with killing on their minds.
Grisly deaths abound, but they happen to characters in which viewers don’t have much reason to become emotionally invested. To complicate matters, the killings are committed by anonymous helmeted death dealers who have neither personalities nor explanations as to why they are offing the dirt bikers. This winds up making the slayings nothing more than hollow displays of violence.
The landscape in Motorrad is often bleak, with an occasional body of water to break up the seemingly endless dusty, rocky roads and hills. Cinematographer Gustavo Hadba provides some breathtaking shots of this barren area, though the overall color palette of the film is usually washed out.
It’s obvious that director/cowriter Vicente Amorim and his cowriters L.G. Bayao and L.G. Tubaldini Jr. had in mind to elevate their film above being merely another violent murderfest, but their attempt at raising myriad questions without answering any of them simply doesn’t work here. Savvy horror fans certainly don’t need, and in most cases don’t want, every little thing explained to them, but whereas successful ambiguous or symbolic films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock or Mulholland Drive provide plenty of food for thought, Motorrad winds up settling for stumping its viewers.
Your enjoyment level of Downrange will depend directly on how your ratio of carnage appreciation lines up with your tolerance for sadistic nihilism. I must admit to a bias going into this film: I am not particularly interested in horror films that use guns as the killer’s weapon, and Downrange is basically a slasher film with a sniper for a villain.
Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, The Midnight Meat Train) directs from a screenplay he cowrote with Joey O’Bryan. Six twentysomething people, most of whom don’t know each other well (Why bother with relationships or dialogue that might get in the way of the carnage?), are on a van ride on a lonesome stretch of road when their tire blows out. As one of the guys discovers that a bullet caused their flat, he is gorily dispatched. One of the young women is the next target, and soon the survivors run for cover once they understand what is happening. They try to figure out how to survive or escape, and that is pretty much it until a few other potential targets are introduced in the second and third acts. The first real attempt at fleshing out any of the characters besides being prey comes just after the halfway point, and by then it’s a bit late to root for the protagonists for any reason other than wanting someone to escape. A certain carload of latecomers is introduced pretty much for shock value and easy sympathy, and a third bunch is introduced for dark humor and added hopelessness.
Early on, there’s not much tension beyond when the sniper will strike next and at whom he might shoot, but Downrange does offer some nail-biting moments here and there. It also doesn’t settle for letting the victims die with dignity; Kitamura offers various methods of corpses being further ravaged by nature and man alike. The big draw for the film is the gruesome makeup effects work, and there is plenty of it on display.
I don’t mind downbeat horror movies with heavy doses of cynicism, but when the characters aren’t even given any depth beyond being the next person to potentially be killed (and therefore the actors have little with which to work), I don’t feel rewarded or entertained by sitting through repeated bloodletting for the sake of doing so. Downrange delivers only in slaughter and gore effects, and for this reviewer, that simply isn’t enough.
Cinepocalypse runs November 2–9 at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, Illinois.