Carnage Park (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
Mickey Keating’s horror-thriller “Carnage Park” commands a real sense of style. Clearly influenced by Quentin Tarantino in terms of its dialogue and characterization, ‘70s pictures such as Wes Craven’s “The Hills Have Eyes” and Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” as well as raw and brutal grindhouse pictures’ effusive energy, the film may be considered both highly watchable and, for some, challenging to sit through. Its willingness to embrace polarity is exactly what I liked about it because movies worth watching, especially those that belong under the horror genre, are unafraid to push the envelope to uncomfortable extremes.
Ashley Bell plays a woman named Vivian who serves as our heroine. She plays the character with utmost conviction and I was reminded by performances not unlike Sandra Peabody in Craven’s “The Last House on the Left” and Sissy Spacek in Brian De Palma’s “Carrie”—both daring and successful horror pictures—seemingly weak in physicality but who are actually internally strong women protagonists. This contrast works here because standard scene setups at times come with surprising and bold character decisions that Bell sells completely. Notice, too, how unafraid she is to look unattractive on camera just as long as she delivers the necessary emotions of Vivian being stuck in a terrifying and impossible situation where a sadistic, psychotic sniper has created a sick playground in the desert.
The look of the picture fits well for the story being told. Credit to cinematographer Daniel Peal for capturing the beauty of the Californian desert but at the same time being able to highlight the horrors it offers when necessary. The images appear to be veiled in a certain yellowish fog which highlights the heat and dryness of the setting. The more desperate our heroine becomes, the style becomes more foreboding and suffocating.
Notice, too, how space, dialogue, and movements are utilized. In the beginning, there are large open spaces, characters talk plenty and fast, movements are brisk and full of energy. Later in the picture, especially noticeable during the third act, these elements are turned upside down. Claustrophobic spaces are more common and the feelings that come with them are amplified. Very few words are exchanged. We hear shuffling, running, and struggling for the most part. It is a picture of survival at its most desperate. I wished, however, there were less extended sequences that cut to black and all we hear are cries.
Equipped with an unsettling and unrelenting score, there is clearly a lot of thought and effort put into the creation of “Carnage Park.” Thus, its shortcomings, such as a lack of consistent and well-earned jolts (especially for a picture with a sniper in it), can be easily overlooked. Although some may argue that the story is stretched too thin, sometimes the movie is not about its story but the drawn-out horror it offers. Using the latter standard as a measuring stick, there is no doubt it succeeds.