Director: Mickey Keating
In Theaters: 07.01
Carnage Park demonstrates writer/director Mickey Keating’s knack for imagining uniquely terrifying scenarios and then inflicting them upon his characters. The film opens with two high-octane scenes—one involving a badly beaten man wandering through the desert only to be shot from afar by a high-caliber rifle, the second depicting two crooks on the run from a botched bank robbery. There’s an obvious nod to Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs when Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hébert) clutches the hand of his partner Lenny (Michael Villar) as he bleeds out in their getaway vehicle. It’s a clever way to open a film that frequently references Tarantino’s grindhouse style.
As intense as these opening scenes are, Carnage Park doesn’t officially begin until it’s revealed that Joe and Lenny have taken a spitfire named Vivian (Ashley Bell) hostage. When Joe schemes to take Vivian with him to Mexico, a gunshot blows out one of the vehicle’s tires, and we soon realize that Joe and Vivian are being hunted by an ex-military sniper named Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy). I’m used to my horror villans stalking their prey with knives or hatchets, seeking to get personal with their victims. Moss doesn’t have this type of fixation—he sees the trespassers as pests that need to be exterminated and nothing more.
I initially expected a story that found Joe and Vivian working together, but the film is steadily focused on Vivian’s individual fight for survival and attempts to safely navigate Moss’ booby-trapped, desolate land. Bell is a one-woman powerhouse, effectively dominating every scene that she’s in and solidifying the entire story.
Carnage Park delivers solid scares and stays faithful to its 1970s setting, but despite its 90-minute runtime, it still feels a little long, and the subplot involving the Sheriff’s (Alan Ruck) understanding of Moss’ predilection for hunting trespassers seemed a poor attempt to humanize the antagonist. Keating’s abilities to create a hellish environment and let a talented actor do her job are spot on, but the film could have benefitted from a more fleshed-out script. Regardless of the film’s flaws, Carnage Park is an excellent entry in the environmental horror subgenre. Keating definitely knows how to make a hostile environment come to life and will be sure to have viewers cautiously peering out of their windshields the next time they drive through some long-forgotten desert highway. –Alex Springer