'Carnage Park': Sundance Review
Being kidnapped during a bank robbery is the least of her problems.
Character actor Pat Healy has been a bright light in dark movies over recent years, starring in fest entries about manipulation and mental cruelty ranging from Great World of Sound to Cheap Thrills. In Mickey Keating's Carnage Park, that run hits a speed bump, with a role as a militiaman-ish killer terrorizing Ashley Bell whose motives aren't mysterious, as they were in Compliance, but incoherent. Character motivation may not rank high on the list of concerns for exploitation flicks, but it would've been useful in this amped-up but spiritless thriller. Loud enough to please some genre fans on video, it has less potential on big screens.
After introductory "names were changed" text cards distractingly reminiscent of Fargo's famous put-on, Keating leaps into a 1970s set-up that not only apes the style of Reservoir Dogs (the scrambled-chronology approach to a botched crime, the cool-guy slo-mo shots, the quirky use of vintage music) but lifts very specific elements, as when a man cuts someone's ear off just as the camera averts its gaze.
Keating then leaves Tarantino alone for a bit, getting his bank robbers stuck in the desert with a hostage (Bell's Vivian) whose day soon gets far worse. "Rescued" from her captors, she awakens in a gruesome fenced-in corner of the California desert that Healy's Wyatt Moss has turned into a hunting ground for humans. Why? Who knows. After a monologue at the film's beginning and flickering flashbacks that suggest he's a PTSD-suffering Vietnam Vet, the pic doesn't even try to connect the dots between past and present, or to give its villain any substantive interaction with its heroine.
Instead, Bell must run around wearing a big-eyed expression of abject shock, responding more to the movie's production design and sound editing than the man who may be trying to kill her, may be taunting her or may just be filling screenplay pages until the movie hits something like feature length. Keating is frustratingly reliant on air-raid sirens, twitchy jump cuts and a score thumping with tension, trying to gin up interest in his seventh-generation cat-and-mouse scenario. His conclusion is even more annoying, sending mixed messages that aren't so much intriguingly ambiguous as ill-considered.
Production company: Diablo Entertainment
Cast: Ashley Bell, Pat Healy, Alan Ruck, Darby Stanchfield, James Landry Hebert, Larry Fessenden
Director-Screenwriter: Mickey Keating
Producers: Eric B. Fleischman, Sean Tabibian
Director of photography: Mac Fisken
Production designer: Angel Herrera
Costume designer: Lauren Howard
Editor: Valerie Krulfeifer
Composer: Giona Ostinelli
Casting director: Lindsey Weissmueller
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Midnight)