Central Park is a unique, genre bending thriller/horror film that spans one night in the worlds' most famous park. Six best friends, high school students, prepare for a night of fun. School is boring, family life unbearable, and Harold and his friends have turned Central Park into their 'spot'. Young and invincible; Harold and his crew own this city. Unbeknownst to them, a revenge-seeking executioner prepares to kill them off one by one to pay for the sins of the father.
Justiin A. Davis
Grace Van Patten
And with good reason. It’s not the best of the series – and a lot of that is due to the fact that Jason is actually only in New York City for the last 20 minutes or so. The majority of the film takes place on a cruise ship bound for The Big Apple.
The reason I bring this up, is because the new indie horror/thriller film – Central Park (which premiered at this year’s Dances with Films in Los Angeles) – succeeded in a way that this now-classic Jason Voorhees’ chapter didn’t.
It’s set in New York City and it absolutely uses that locale as its central conceit. Jason Takes Manhattan wishes it was half as good as Central Park.
In the immediate aftermath of a major, Bernie Madoff-style scandal in New York City – six high school friends (including the son of the accused embezzler) retreat to Central Park to let off some steam – smoking dope, drinking too much and playing a little Truth or Dare. But someone (or something) in the depths of the park is on a hunt – and begins to attack and kill the students one by one. Elsewhere, one of the students’ teachers, Mr. Shaw (Michael Lombardi) and his wife become directly involved in the horror. Add into the mix, a couple of police detectives and the three semi-related stories will eventually converge.
The film has so much going for it and so much early promise, that you’ll find yourself not only rooting for it, but very much engaged by all that is establishes…
And then it goes horribly off the rails and you’re left wondering what happened – and feelings of real disappointment will arise. How will it let you down? Well first, let’s talk about the many good things.
One of the big selling points for Central Park, is the idea that this is very much an old school slasher film – albeit with some realistic characters. And instead of some abandoned summer camp somewhere in the woods of New Jersey – it’s smack dab in the middle of one of the most well-known urban park settings in the world. So it may start to feel a bit flimsy as the characters are picked off by the killer (since they are in the middle of New York City’s massive population), but it’s a minor thing you can overcome, because… well – this idea is cool and unique.
On the technical side, there’s not a complaint to be had. The editing, sound, camerawork, amazing locations and score are all flawless. This film simply looks and sounds sleek.
The characters are immediately real and you’ll quickly find yourself ready to follow them anywhere. The actors cast actually look and sound like real teenagers. So many films (horror or otherwise) fall into the Beverly Hills 90210 trap – where your “teenagers” are played by 30-somethings, who really feel like 30-somethings. It does nothing to cement your film’s illusion.
So that’s why kudos need to be paid to the casting people. These actors are authentic in look. They’re also really good actors. In the early moments with these six kids, and then when things become violent and desperate – the actors never miss a beat. I never questioned their sincerity, their predicament and their tears.
Central Park is very much an ensemble piece. We may not get oodles of history, but it felt like enough. And any shortcomings in the exposition category – were masked by the strong acting work. Particular praise should be paid to Justiin A. Davis as Harold “H” Smith – the son of the Bernie Madoff copycat. When things in the pot-party become a little more somber, and Harold is questioned about what his father actually did, there are some genuine emotions and real tears from Davis. It’s a good scene for everyone, but Davis truly shines.
And that is one of the conundrums of this – what is essentially a slasher film. That early promise mentioned above also comes with surprising sympathy for these kids. Another great example is the drunken text which Mikey (Deema Aitken) sends to his teacher. It’s heartfelt and touching. But in the end, these moments of true emotion don’t help with the film’s structural downfall and confusing final moments.
The big problem with the film (and yes, it’s a big problem which you simply cannot overlook) is that odd story structure.
It’s not common. And so when it intrigues the audience at the outset, there’s goodwill and even some excitement as things get underway. “How are they going to bring this all together?” But when the three related stories finally intersect – the writer has to really bring the goods to make the payoff work and to frankly – not piss off the audience. Sadly, when the three storylines finally come together in Central Park – it’s a massive letdown. It’s not particularly ground-breaking and above all else – it’s not exciting.
Another fault of the film is that the ending is not terribly clear. The film is full of red herrings (the constant camera-spying) and attempted misdirection. But there is never an actual unmasking of the killer, although we’re led to believe it may be someone important to the characters. But if it is that person (I wish I could say, for the purposes of this discussion, but – spoilers!) we’re meant to believe it is – it opens up plenty of plot-holes. Why would that person have turned on these characters? But again, with no official explanation in the film, I can’t say for sure.
And then there’s the final image in the film. Did he pull off a wig? Are we meant to know who that person is? Too many unanswered questions. If you’re kind of setting things up as something of a whodunit – complete with those aforementioned red herrings – you can’t leave stones unturned.
With strong production values, equally strong performances and a promising first half – Central Park gets lost and eventually falls apart – trying something new structure-wise, but falling far short.
So knowing how this screening experience ends – who am I to say that it’s superior to Jason Takes Manhattan? At least that particular Voorhees’ chapter never promised you good things. It was honest.
Central Park gives you good things – hell great things! – and then squanders the connection made with its audience by not following through on what could have been a truly great experiment.
Central Park is just beginning its festival run, so no information about distribution or a wider release is currently available.