SIFF Film Review – Carnage Park
I like gore. I really, really like it. In my opinion, most movies would be better with a little eyeball popping or face stabbing. Shooting is okay as long as there is lots of blood spurts, and, thankfully, I got some in Mickey Keating’s new film Carnage Park, which I saw at the Seattle International Film Festival. Vivian (Ashley Bell) is having a really bad day. As she is being informed that she cannot get a loan to save her farm, the bank she’s in gets held up, and she is taken hostage. Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hébert) is also having a crappy day. His bank robbery plan goes to hell when his partner Lenny gets shot and the police chase drives them to the middle of nowhere. Their mutual day gets much, much worse when they discover they are on the property of Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy) a Vietnam vet who has a penchant for providing the kind of roadside assistance that no one wants – with a sniper rifle. Before the end of the day, Vivian finds herself handcuffed to a corpse, hunted by a madman, and pushed to her physical and mental limits. The film blends genres, but I’m going to call it a horror film because there is a monster of a kind, gallons of blood, and a girl running through a dark passage.
There is nothing particularly original in this film, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I kind of enjoyed it. Horror movies are often formulaic. (Really, a lot of non-horror movies are too if you want to be honest about it.) Originality is great, even when not successful, but there is still a lot fun to be had by seeing how a director plays with the conventions of the genre. Keating is pulling from a lot of different sources, including 70’s exploitation films, Quentin Tarantino, Sam Peckinpah, Deliverance, and The Most Dangerous Game among other things; there’s a lot going on here. Not all of it is good. Tarantino’s influence – down to the type of songs on the soundtrack – is too strong and Keating runs the risk of having the film dismissed as just a clone. He has a good sense of how to make a movie, but it feels like he hasn’t found his own style yet. Tarantino’s voice consists of a ton of movie history, the good and the not so good, filtered through his own personality. Keating feels like he’s copying when he should be stealing and making things his own.
There are a couple of moments where things just don’t work. Too much time is spent on Vivian freaking out, and while that may be somewhat realistic, realism does not always make for good storytelling. There are also some lovely shots of the landscape and sky which feel like filler to pad the length out. I’d rather have a shorter, tighter film, than keep wondering what the hell is going on with the nature scenes. But there are some genuinely funny moments, the gore is pretty entertaining, and Vivian is a decent heroine when she is not having histrionics. We don’t really get to know her well, but she’s a little busy and that’s somewhat understandable. Some of the performances are a little over the top but they never go too far, and Alan Ruck is a standout in his performance as the local sheriff who goes looking for Vivian and finds trouble instead.
I have a lot of goodwill towards this movie, and much of it is due to how the film treats Vivian. Ashley Bell is pretty and is wearing a really nice 70’s style dress (the film takes place in 1978 I think) but at no time is she or her character sexualized. The camera doesn’t leer at her and no one threatens rape. She is not an object of desire, but rather a focal point for our sympathy. You know, like a male character might be. It’s pretty awesome. The term “exploitation” in exploitation film does not mean “let’s exploit sex and violence” it means “let’s exploit the current movie trends for a quick buck.” A good exploitation film does not have to be sleazy. I like sex and violence in my movies, but sexual violence not so much. I’m not saying this is a movie for girls, but I feel like ladies are welcome here in a way that they aren’t in a lot of similar films. It’s not great, but it’s fun, and I am really curious to see what Keating gets up to in the future.
Carnage Park is available on VOD staring July 1st.