By: Hawk Ripjaw (Three Beers) –
Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hebert) and Lenny (Michael Villar) think they’re pretty great. Joe thinks he’s so cool, he talks in the third person and gets his very own title card. Unfortunately, they’re not great enough to pull off a robbery of the local bank without a hitch—one such hitch involves the abduction of Vivian (Ashley Bell), who has found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, attempting to secure a loan for her father’s farm, and is taken by Joe and the wounded Lenny into the mountains. Their route takes them right into the fenced-off wilderness controlled by a deranged ex-military sniper named Wyatt (Pat Healy), whose twisted ideology has led him to create the stretch of land in which he hunts trespassers.
Carnage Park is dripping with style. If Tarantino likes to bathe his film in grindhouse aesthetics, Mickey Keating likes to hold its head under the surface. From the sepia-tinted film stock to the smash cut character introductions and concussive soundtrack, this is a movie that is unafraid of broadcasting what it is. The violence, when it hits, is spectacularly gory and done almost entirely practically. We’re talking splattering, running brains and corpses with caved-in heads here. It tapers off towards the end but such an enthusiastic embrace of practical gore is incredibly refreshing.
The movie almost never fails to be entertaining and engaging, but at times it feels more like pieces of a whole that don’t quite fit together. The scene transitions, which fast cut away from the action to a skyline ushering in the next page of the script, come close to feeling like vignettes starring the same characters. Speaking of character, Carnage Park itself doesn’t really feel like one in the way these survival movies need. Wyatt’s psychotic desert prison, set up as it is in a cameo from the always-great Larry Fessenden, is ripe for far sicker atmosphere than what it’s given. Instead, it’s more just an expanse of desert as a backdrop for Vivian to get to the next grisly corpse, or the next close shave with Wyatt.
Time, money, or motivation apparently ran out in the final stretch of production, because this movie drags itself across the finish line like any of its numerous victims. We arrive at the climax… and then it completely fizzles. I won’t spoil what happens, but everything that the movie has worked to set up with Vivian and Wyatt, and everything it’s done to build to their final confrontation, ends with a confrontation that feels uninspired at best, and unfinished at worst. There are shades of the climax to Silence of the Lambs, but it doesn’t really grab onto that level of tension in the final moments.
Carnage Park is a fun, very well-made, and satisfyingly tense movie that doesn’t necessarily plant itself in your memory like the first 10-20 minutes suggest that it could. After the promise of the first half, it goes from a high level of entertainment to just being generally fun, which is weird considering how much confidence it had in that first 45 minutes. The villain is creepy, the cinematography is gorgeous, and then for some reason it seems like it doesn’t want to go all the way.
Carnage Park (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time someone gets shot.
Do a Shot: any time a scene transition is done with a shot of the skyline.
Take a Drink: for every wilderness shot.
Do a Shot: whenever Vivian screams.
Do a Shot: whenever Wyatt laughs.