People are always fretting that things are about to end badly. From the Rapture to Raganarok mankind has fetishized the apocalypse since time immemorial. Zombies are 21st century America’s doom du jur. The undead combine eschatological insecurity with Internet-Age narcissism. Unable to fully empathize with our fellow man we project our fantasies about them onto subhuman monsters and cast ourselves as the only true hope for authentic humanity. Consider the beginning of Range 15:
A group of veterans, war heroes all, are sitting in jail after an all night drunken escapade. The soldiers are screw-ups in the tame 9 to 5 world civilians inhabit and where the lethal skills they’ve honed in the military aren’t needed any more. While they’re locked up, civilian society collapses courtesy a Zombie Apocalypse. They use this as an opportunity to break out of out of jail and return to the life they’re comfortable with, killing as a team sport.
Over the remainder of the film they mow through the zombies with glee and ingenuity. Their only real anger is reserved for flag burners and people who lie about having served in the Military; stolen valor, they call it.
Veterans of the US Military made Range 15 for it to be seen by other veterans and active duty service people. The production of the film was completely crowd funded and the film was distributed through a brilliant social media campaign that sold out theaters all over the country its opening night. The film’s scrappy, “we can do it ourselves”, marketing campaign appealed to the esprit de corps and mission based mindset common to vets and made Range 15 the most improbable hit of the year.
Nick Palmisciano, who stars in, co-wrote and produced the film and I have known each other for years. A graduate of West Point, veteran and successful entrepreneur he has always possessed a keen understanding of where marketing and the military meet up.
I first met Nick when we were involved in a project to put on a live MMA production for the troops at FOB Marez outside of Mosul Iraq in 2008. While prepping for the show on the base we saw something the troops on the base called the Tank Grave Yard. This was a big junkyard where the Army put the all burned out shells of Saddam Hussein’s old Soviet tanks; the ones that the US had made such short work immolating in the beginning days of the war. While we were looking around, Nick, in a moment of inspiration, put his business card as CEO of apparel company Ranger Up inside one of the tank barrels and snapped a picture for the company’s website. The image said to me, “America still does at least two things better than any body else, marketing and industrialized warfare,” and “ Buy your shirts at RangerUp.com”
Range 15 is the darkest comedy you will ever see but it is also a broadside against the despair and hopelessness that make suicide among Veterans such an epidemic in the U.S. The film does this by skewering the fears America seems to run on these days. Fear of Death, fear of the other, fear of pain and hardship, fear of shame, duress and ridicule; these are the levers by which the powerful agitate the public mind and set us one against the other, destroying the “team spirit” of the Nation. Fear is also what comedy, brutal or not, alleviates. Satire helps take the teeth out of the world’s horror. This is the spirit of Range 15.
Although it’s a comedy, be warned; this is not a film for the faint of heart. If Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now and Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket remade the Rocky Horror Picture Show then it would be Range 15. It’s shock art by way of the Pentagon, or that old joke the Aristocrats as told by Generation Kill. By its very existence the film subverts the twin neurosis of age, self-righteousness and political correctness.
For example, I have long considered myself invulnerable to offense but even I was taken aback by one scene involving a character named Colonel Vandenham and one his over the top bloody rampages. If you see the film you’ll know immediately the one I mean. But, the reality is that nobody really cares whether or not I was offended because it doesn’t matter to any one but me. Life goes on. This is something that’s useful to be reminded of from time to time.