Stars: Ashley Bell, Pat Healy, James Landry Hébert, Michael Villar, Bob Bancroft, Larry Fessenden, Graham Skipper, Darby Stanchfield, Alan Ruck | Written and Directed by Mickey Keating
Sometimes I’m sure people think I’m just being contrary in my reviews – there are films I like that MANY don’t (if you remember the first Frightfest I covered in 2009 you’ll know what I’m talking about); and there are films that are critically acclaimed, be it by other movie blogs, big name film critics, whomever, that just don’t resonate with me. One such film was Mickey Keating’s previous film Pod. However, not to be put off by one bad experience, and thanks to good word of mouth I decided to give his latest film, Carnage Park, a go…
Carnage Park sees two criminals rob a bank and go on the run. However things don’t go to plan and they end up with a kidnapped woman in the boot of their car. Just as they think they are safe they end up at the desert outpost of a deranged ex-military sniper. Trapped in this increasingly dangerous game of cat and mouse things quickly go from bad to worse.
OK, let’s get this out of the way first. Yes, I enjoyed this a LOT more than Pod. Yet throughout the film I couldn’t help but think Keating – as writer and director – has taken the idea of homage too far with Carnage Park. So far in fact that I was constantly thinking “someone has watched Wake in Fright once to often”… Not that this film shares a similar story, but the look – the bleak setting and the purposeful colour correction – just reminded me of the desert set scenes in that, much better, film.
Then there’s the opening, a scene that could’ve stepped out of Reservoir Dogs; the character of Wyatt Moss (Healy), whose part the gas-mask killer from My Bloody Valentine (another film that Keating seemingly “homages” here in the mine-set scenes) and part “crazy brother” who could have stepped out of from the TCM franchise. I also find it interesting that Moss too has a family member, a lawman in fact, covering for him somewhat – something we’ve seen all too often in exploitation cinema. Hell, even the title isn’t original. It blatantly references Punishment Park, another 70s classic, which featured a similar hunting humans theme.
And that’s the thing… So far, everything I’ve seen from Keating is a riff on something else. Some may say homage, I say a lack of originality. Whilst Carnage Park may be a huge improvement over Pod in terms of filmmaking – Keating really does make the most of the locale visually, managing to make the hills themselves as monstrous as Pat Healy’s psychopath – it still suffers from “seen it all before” syndrome. Something that also plagued Keating’s Darling.
Speaking of Healy, there’s one thing you can say about him: no matter the subject matter, no matter the movie, he always delivers. Here he plays psycho killer with aplomb and even in the calmer scenes, such as in his discussion with Alan Ruck’s Sheriff brother, there’s nuances in his mannerisms that say more about the characters mindset than any words can. It’s only thanks to the performance of Healy, as well as Ashley Bell as the films heroine, Vivian, [Sidenote: Bell’s role as Mary in The Day, is still to this day – in my opinion – criminally underrated] that I stuck with Carnage Park till the credits rolled…
Despite being available digitally for almost six months, Carnage Park is now available on DVD from High Fliers Films.