After botching an ill-conceived bank robbery in a desolate California town, two wannabe crooks flee the scene with a hostage and lead the local lawmen on a dangerous high-speed chase.
July 1, 2016
A new film from Mickey Keating (of last year’s Pod), the promisingly titled Carnage Park – is sure purdy to look at, but you’ll have little sympathy for the characters, little interest in the story (or lack thereof) and no need to recommend it to your friends (or in my case, to my readers).
Vivian (Ashley Bell of The Last Exorcism films) is a small town girl looking for a loan to keep her family farm within the family – in light of her father’s recent sickness. Her timing to visit the bank couldn’t be worse, as she is kidnapped by two bumbling ex-cons and now bank robbers – Scorpion Joe and Lenny (James Landry Hebert and Michael Villar). The robbers’ escape route takes them smack-dab into the remote and dusty private property of ex-military and now serial killer, Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy). And once things go downhill for the kidnappers, Vivian is forced to make her way across the desolate landscape, avoiding the psychotic Wyatt and trying to help some of his sporadic, but still alive, other injured victims. Add in a local sheriff (Alan Ruck) with ties to the crazy Wyatt, and we’re on our way.
The film is basically one big chase. And while I love me a good chase scene, a whole movie devoted to it? Not so much. We get some basic insights into Vivian’s history (she’s our final girl from the moment we see her), but that exposition never comes into play during the rest of the film – so it’s ultimately pointless. Nothing is introduced that helps her through this violent chase of survival, and so in essence, we have nothing to latch onto, character-wise. She’s got no journey, she’s strong from the get-go (as evidenced by her scene in the bank, requesting the loan), so she’s got nothing but the physical difficulties to overcome… and so we don’t really care if she makes it or not. We never root for her. Which is sad, because…
Ashley Bell is one hell of an actress. I never question her commitment to any role she’s done and she seems to have good instincts. Can we just get her a script that will further show off her obvious gifts, and not just put her through the physical ringer (as is the case here)? She delivers her lines and her grunts and her screams from deep in her gut, and that’s what makes her stand out from the material she’s meant to portray. Several moments stand out as her best – the interaction with Scorpion Joe as she pleads for her life on the fast drive through the desert and another particular interaction with Scorpion Joe – which I can’t name, as I don’t want to spoil anything. I’ll just say that the getaway car has just developed a flat and Scorpion exits the car to investigate – but not before handcuffing Vivian to the steering wheel – rendering her helpless for what’s about to occur. It’s a great scene, and easily Bell’s best in the film.
I did enjoy the work of Pat Healy as Wyatt Moss. He’s taken a cue from the work of Michael Rooker (it feels as though Wyatt could be a long-lost brother in the Dixon clan from The Walking Dead) – hell he even looks like Rooker. He’s appropriately menacing – certainly since Wyatt’s generally so calm as he commits his heinous acts. He’s a good villain, but there’s only the lightest of history to be found here – he’s clearly a veteran dealing with his PTSD in a very extreme way.
Showing up in supporting roles (I would venture to say that some of these actors are friends of the filmmakers), horror regular Larry Fessenden, Scandal’s Darby Stanchfield (I don’t think she had any lines, only a few grunts and gasps – she’s got about 1 minute of screen-time) and yes, that’s Ferris Bueller’s best buddy, Cameron (Alan Ruck) as Sheriff Moss. Note the same last name for the sheriff and the villain. Ruck gets some good screen-time and properly chews the scenery as a backwoods sheriff, but Fessenden and Stanchfield – well, their roles could have been played by anyone. Again, some favors were apparently fulfilled here. But it’s nice to see familiar and talented faces filling out the supporting cast.
Stylistically, I loved the film. It’s a period piece (late ‘70s) and the details are marvelously on-the-mark. The film feels like an old exploitation film – so there’s clearly plenty of influence from the work of Tarantino. Even the music score and song choices echoed the films of Tarantino. Many of the shots of the desert are washed-out, further cementing the era of the story. Why, there’s even a scroll of information at the beginning of the film, something along the lines of “among the worst crimes in the annals of American history”, taking a cue from an important horror film of the ‘70s, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Other technical achievements include the breezy desert locations (reminiscent of a slightly more tree-filled landscape of The Hills Have Eyes), impressively detailed set dressing (Wyatt’s many “outposts”, and indeed, his house, are creepy as all get-out) and absolutely terrific gore effects. There’s no shortage of blood in Carnage Park (you’d hope, with a name like that) and the special effects are lots of fun (particularly some of the resulting damage from Wyatt Moss’s rifle). Gross.
With the hopping craziness of the opening sequence, I was definitely enticed to fall down and love this piece. But it couldn’t hang on – because nothing really happens. Lots of chases, lots of wacky editing and plenty of early promise, but with absolutely nothing of any substance and despite being a film full of style, Carnage Park should just be boarded up, abandoned and forgotten.
Carnage Park is scheduled for theatrical release on July 1st.