Movie Review: CARNAGE PARK (2016)

Welcome witches and warlocks,

Today I will be reviewing the horror/thriller Carnage Park by writer/director Mickey Keating.  I am going to use part of IMDb’s description combined with my own for the basic story rundown:

A part of wannabe crooks botch a bank heist, take a hostage, and flee into the desert, where they stumble upon Carnage Park, a remote stretch of wilderness occupied by a psychotic ex-military sniper who likes to toy with his prey.

The sun beats down on deserted sand dunes, wind blows through the branches of desolate trees, and a rifle firing off somewhere in the distance breaks the silence.  A man runs into the frame bruised and bloodied as more gun shots pierce through the menacingly quiet desertscape.  The hunter cares not that it is broad daylight, cares not that he is firing upon a fellow human being, and cares not that his prey is defenseless; all he cares about is the sport.  The sun beats down on deserted sand dunes, wind blows through the branches of desolate trees, a bullet finds its prey, and a hunter drives off to find his next victim.

Our sniper, who goes by the name Wyatt, manages to be both despicable and fascinating at the same time.  Chalk this up to a great performance from the almost always solid Pat Healy who brings just enough sinister charm to an otherwise abhorrent human being.  While we are given a bit of background as to why Wyatt is so twisted (former Vietnam veteran with PTSD) it is never used as a means to justify his brutal games.

The use of the 1970’s as a setting proves to be integral to the character’s background as well as a nice tip of the hat to other features from that era.  Given Mr. Keating’s last feature (Darling) had several nods to the works of Stanley Kubrick and Roman Polanski, his use of the time period in this piece feels like an homage to the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance.  Those of a more modern mind set will be hard pressed to think of the opening as a riff on Quentin Tarantino’s earlier works before it eventually turns into something more akin to the brutal meditations on violence of Sam Peckinpha.

Surprisingly the style itself never gets bogged down in the reference points, but manages to remain dynamic.  The cinematography produces some absolute stunning camera shots while still remaining kinetic enough to keep the tension high, leaving us on the edge of our seats until the ending.  The conclusion itself eschews the broad daylight menace of the first two thirds and delves into a dark mine where we are forced to rely upon our hearing more than what we are seeming to surmise what is happening.  Thanks to some plot turns before this point, this conclusion symbolically shows our lead actress’ descent into Wyatt’s dark world.

Given the outcome, I was curious as to what the basis for this true story was so I started to do some hunting to see where these characters are now.  As of this writing, I have yet to find anything resembling the basic plot of this picture so for all I know, this could be very loosely based on a true story (much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was inspired by Ed Gein) or it could be more like Fargo where it is completely made up.  The fact that the end of the film has the traditional “The events depicted in this movie are fictitious.  Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental” makes me believe that Mr. Keating was emulating the Coen brothers most well known feature.

All in all, with such a diverse pedigree, it is hard for this film to rise above its references into something that feels new.  Savvy viewers or cinephiles will already know most of the story beats long before they happen taking much of the mystery out of the proceedings.  Luckily, the movie is packed to the gills with solid performances, homages, and a frenetic style so that even though we may know what is coming, there is plenty to keep our interest.

CARNAGE PARK will be in select theaters and VOD on July 1st, 2016

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