Carnage Park (2016)

carnagepark-1Two bank robbers take a hostage in rural California after their botched robbery attempt.  They take her on the road where they run afoul of an armed man who likes to go hunting for a special kind of game. “Carnage Park” is written and directed by Mickey Keating, who also did the very good “Pod,” as well as “Ultra Violence,” “Ritual,” and “Darling” which have all been on this reviewer’s radar, alas victims to the classic situation of too many movies, too little time.  Keating knows his craft and how to build an effective film.  This one being well written and directed, however for all its violence, it is not as effective as it should be.

The movie starts with a bang and maintains its violence and tension for a while, however, once the character of Vivian finds herself on the mad man’s property, the whole thing becomes routine cat and mouse and fizzles out which is unfortunate as her character, up to that point, was built as someone the viewers can care about.  The story here, once it finds its groove doesn’t go off course which means there are no real twists and turns to it and it becomes unfortunately predictable.  The characters created by Keating are interesting but not given much of an arc or evolution except for Vivian who gets a more to work with. These characters are brought to life by a competent cast, including the very charming (and adorable) Ashley Bell as Vivian.

Bell has some experience, however this is the first performance seen by this reviewer that brought her to the front and added her to a pack of newer actresses to be watched.  As almost the entire movie rests on her performance, she did very well with only a couple of lesser moments.  Playing opposite her are James Landry Hebert as Scorpion Joe, one of the bank robbers who take her hostage, and Pat Healy as Wyatt Moss, the gun happy mad man who’s made her his game for the day.  Both turn in good performances, Hebert gives off a crazed desperation type of vibe, while Moss gives off a more calculated, calm performance.  In a small cameo, viewers should recognize Ferris Bueller’s best friend, actor Alan Ruck, stealing a few scenes.

The setting here is its own character.  In the sun-bleached desert of California in what looks like the 1970s, everything is perfect for the time period.  From the décor, to the buildings, to the cars, to the clothes, et al., the production design by Angel Herrera and the art direction by Priscilla Watson are on point.  Their work is highlighted by cinematographer Mac Fisker, a regular of Keating’s films, which shows the locations as perfectly deserted with well selected framing and focus on details most would not notice.  Also worth noting is the music by Giona Ostinelli which works with the scenes and adds mood to the sometimes over-exposed images.  The piece at the end of the film is very reminiscent of films like “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” perhaps even a bit too much as the film is already packed with homages to other films and art pieces.

“Carnage Park” is a violent, grimy piece of cinema with good performances.  The story, based on a real crime, starts off very interesting but unfortunately becomes routine once the lead character starts being chased by the big baddie.  The violence is well done and brutal, making the film an experience in itself; however it’s not enough to be fully engrossing.  The first part of the film moves at a good pace, but it eventually starts to feel slow with a dew overly long sequences in complete darkness which are hard to follow and consequently hard to care about.  The film seems to want to be a western, a horror film, a drama, etc but can’t seem to settle on a main focus.

For all its violence, Carnage Park brings a question:  Can a film be both brutal and boring at the same time?

As with IFC’s other recent release, “Intruder,” “Carnage Park” has a mid-credit scene which feels out of place for this style of film.

On VOD and in select theaters on July 1st, 2016; it is slated for a limited run at San Diego’s Digital Gym Cinema starting on July 8th, 2016.