Carnage Park (2016)
Director: Mickey Keating
Genre: Horror
IFC Midnight

Synopsis: Psychotic Vietnam war veteran Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy) terrorizes a young woman named Vivian Fontaine (Ashley Young) in a deadly game of cat and mouse in the California desert.

Overview: Written and directed by Mickey Keating as a thematic and aesthetic throwback to classic 1970s exploitation films, Carnage Park sees Pat Healy flexing all of his character actor chops as a supremely deranged central antagonist. After a hapless bank robber mistakenly makes his way into a stretch of privately owned California desert, Wyatt makes short work of ‘Scorpion’ Joe Clay (James Landry Hébert), only to find that the two-bit criminal was traveling with a hostage.

Unfortunately for Vivian, Wyatt is a less than understanding good samaritan, who shortly decides to begin hunting the young woman for sport. After knocking her unconscious with a hastily measured dose of chloroform, Wyatt leaves his latest victim alone in the desert in the midst of a sadistic playground of his own making. Harking back to the classic Richard Connell short story, “The Most Dangerous Game,” Carnage Park soon finds Young playing the part of the screaming final girl in a horror movie pastiche.

Borrowing equally from Sam Peckinpah and Tobe Hooper, Carnage Park plays out like a manic cross between Straw Dogs and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as edited by Quentin Tarantino. The gleeful shock and awe that pervades throughout the film starts with the grindhouse aesthetics of its main title sequence, and continues on until the bitter end that leaves viewers in a state of delirious terror that mirrors Vivian’s unsteady triumph.

In the midst of all the carnage, Vivian makes her way into a winding, dark, and cavernous abandoned mine in Wyatt’s playground of horror. Believing Wyatt to have died by her own hands, Vivian’s journey home is haunted by the resounding laughter of her late terrorizer, which she may or may not be imagining. Briefly during the film’s third act, there is a discomforting shot that sees Vivian continuing to wander the blazing heat of the California desert. In that moment, the viewer is made to question their own sense of things against which the reality of Carnage Park has disoriented.

Like Vivian, the viewer is also left alone with Wyatt as their sole voice of guiding authority. As Carnage Park progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Keating is intent on mirroring the deleterious effects of being the victim to a mass murderer like Wyatt in the viewer’s experience of watching the movie. In this way, Vivian becomes more than a mere horror genre trope. More than the direct subject of Wyatt’s aggression, Young acts as a surrogate protagonist in whose shoes the viewer is allowed to cinematically occupy in a film that offers some of the most visceral thrills of any genre film from the past several years.

Mickey Keating is definitely a filmmaking talent to watch closely, and Carnage Park is among his most fully realized directorial efforts to date. And with Healy serving as the star and executive producer, the film is granted even more credibility from the likes of a premiere Hollywood supporting player. Even if Carnage Park is unlikely to gain residence among many other A-list horror movies of its ilk, the authentic scares that it manages to deliver in its welcome tribute to the 1970s era makes it more than worthy for horror fans to check out.

Featured Image: Netflix