Mickey Keating’s insanely fun Carnage Park stars Ashley Bell as a butter-wouldn’t-melt farm girl who finds herself in the cross hairs of a warped marksman who casually hunts human prey…
Poor Ashley Bell. She can’t catch a break. After being possessed in The Last Exorcism she’s now in the trunk of a getaway car as two inept bank robbers make an unwittingly ill-conceived cross country trip bookended by their own doom. Bell’s sweet-natured country gal and apple pie smile are along for the ride, her driver not the man with the gun but writer-director Mickey Keating’s sadistic fetishism. Carnage Park is Peter Watkins for the Quentin Tarantino generation; a modern day throwback where pastiche masquerades as homage.
But Keating’s prescribed style is a clear indication that a film’s character is not constrained by its perceived lack of originality. When a bleeding crook sings his last hymn in the back of a speeding vehicle, we might think Reservoir Dogs but Carnage Park’s golden-hued aesthetic moves in a wholly new direction, its similarities to Tarantino’s robbery-gone-wrong beginning and ending there. However, the Pulp Fiction creator would be giddily pleased Keating’s bloody desert is splattered by the entrails of bad guys and “badder” guys.
As the film moves through its twisted narrative – jump cuts energising Keating’s kinetic approach and adding backstory to its initial undeterred pace – Carnage Park cuts through its insufferably hot and humid setting with a refreshing example of unbridled authorship; albeit built on foundations laid by Peckinpah, Craven, Sarafian and Tobe Hooper. Its unwillingness to form an orderly queue on the way to generic convention makes our Scream Queen’s horrific plight that little more unnerving.
But Ashley Bell really makes it work. She has a terrific raw as if her lineage might actually have featured tigers at some point down the line and she marries that guttural screech with elasticated expressions akin to the silent stars of the 1910s and 1920s. In fact, she has a classic Hollywood sensibility about her performance that adds a certain sheen, even glamour, to the foul-smelling feculence and bodily decay that surrounds her here. A wonderfully over-the-top escape sees her battering a dead man’s hand to pieces to break free from a set of handcuffs, Keating turning Daddy’s favourite girl into a feral survivalist. Her Sunday Best, neatly punctuated by nature’s blossom, now spattered with bloody goo: a ritualistic deflowering.
She’s up against a trigger-happy sadist with a sniper’s eye for detail. Indeed, Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy) might be related to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family for all we know, but his clean-cut psychosis is underpinned by a preoccupation with neatness. Everything from the crucifixes hanging on his washing line to the underground cave network and unmarked graves, Moss is a stickler for his own rules. And that’s part of the game, as this Vietnam War veteran prowls his land hunting human prey.
It culminates in a claustrophobic unlit face-off which is in sharp contrast to the film’s pervading midday sun. The stakes aren’t quite as high as they could have been; Keating’s perverse sense of humour leaving Carnage Park’s final stages less cat and mouse, more Tom and Jerry. But the indistinct images, accentuated by a bulletproof face mask and breathing apparatus akin to My Bloody Valentine and the amplified voice of her aggressor, disorientate and unsettle with satisfying results. What was once a heist movie that moved into psychodrama is now fully tuned into the trappings of horror cinema. But whatever Carnage Park tries to be, it more or less delights.
Written by Dan Stephens
Top 10 Films reviewed Carnage Park courtesy of Content Media. The film is OUT NOW on EST.