The Thrill of the Hunt – A Review of ‘Carnage Park’

The Thrill of the Hunt – A Review of Carnage Park

You’d think being taken hostage during a bank robbery gone awry would the worst thing to happen to Vivian (Ashley Bell) on a sweltering day in the California desert in 1978. In a race to get away from the police, her captors inadvertently drive onto the property of Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy), a crazed former military sniper with a deadly pastime. Until now Wyatt’s brother, the local sheriff (Alan Ruck), has turned a blind eye to his sibling’s activities. But, with the missing Vivian, the Sheriff might have to intervene. Whether Vivian survives long enough to be found is a whole another story.

Welcome to Carnage Park, the latest film written and directed by Mickey Keating.  As with his earlier films, Keating borrows heavily from a wide variety of influences. “Carnage Park is my total love letter to Peckinpah, and Deliverance, and ’70s survival movies,” said Keating told Entertainment Weekly. Notes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the works of Tarantino are present throughout the film. Keating is clearly a lover of cinema and wants to build off what’s come before. After watching three of his films, I feel as though I’m watching an artist displaying the process of finding his voice. His proficiency improves with each outing, but he still hasn’t created a work that could be considered unique and indelible to the genre. That’s not to say Carnage Park isn’t a step forward in that direction.

The performances by Pat Healy and Ashley Bell are fantastic and completely anchor the film. From the moment the two first encounter each other, it’s difficult to take your eyes off the screen. Bell surprises throughout. Her delicate features reminiscent of Sissy Spacek are juxtaposed by a toughness and survival instincts that would put Linda Hamilton to shame. She portrays Vivian as a fighter from the beginning. Even though she’s in way over her heard, thanks to Bell, you know she’ll prove a challenge to Wyatt.


Vivian (Ashley Bell) sets her sights on her attacker.

Pat Healy has been on my radar since his small but memorable role in Ghost World. In recent years, watching him partner with up-and-coming directors such as Ti West and E.L. Katz, he’s positioned himself as a go-to talent for unconventional and engaging performances. He’s no different here. He offers a chilling performance as Wyatt, a man whose actions are unexplained yet frighteningly real.

Wyatt’s hunt of Vivian is tense and brutal, and–true to Keating’s words–call back to survival films from the 1970s. The film plays with viewers’ expectations and takes turns you never quiet expect, which builds intensity. It’s too bad Carnage Park loses much of the intensity by devolving into slasher territory with a barely lit cavernous chase scene for the finale. Wyatt, his face covered with a gas mask, invokes both the killer in My Bloody Valentine and the similarly masked (and nameless?) pursuer in the finale to House of 1,000 Corpses. His taunts in the dark aren’t nearly as effectively or terrifying as his scenes earlier in the film. To mask Wyatt in near pitch black robs him of the terror in his cold and calculating stare. The darkness meant to be claustrophobic, as though the world is collapsing around Vivian. Instead, it removes all distinction from the film and allows it to become any other killer-chases-final-girl finale we’ve seen way too many times before.

Despite the missteps in the finale, Keating has produced an entertaining film which displays both his love of genre films and his skill in emulating the classics. My only wish is that he internalize his influences and forge a new path instead of retreading what came before. I want to see what kind of classic he can make.

Carnage Park opens July 1, 2016 in New York City and on all On Demand and Digital Platforms. The Los Angeles release is scheduled for July 8, 2016.