Though re-quels – or soft reboot sequels – have been the biggest horror trends over the last few years, a few others have lurked in the background. Yes, Cabin in the Woods hit theaters over a decade ago. Nonetheless, meta-slashers haven’t completely gone out of style. The occasional Giallo-inspired thriller still turns up. And the 70s Grindhouse aesthetic still resonates with hardcore horror fans. Taking a page from Quentin Tarantino and, to a lesser extend, survival horror like Wolf Creek, Mikey Keating’s (Offseason) Carnage Park looks like something that might have played as part of a double-bill in the 1970s.
After a failed bank robbery, a pair of small-time crooks, with a hostage in tow, drive into the dessert to escape the law. While they manage to get a step ahead of the local sheriff, they run into a much more grave problem. Somewhere hidden in the desolate landscape, a psychotic sniper targets the trio. Trapped in a madman’s twisted version of a theme park, a desperate bid for survival ensues.
Carnage Park Offers a Relentless, Brutal Game of Cat-and-Mouse
For Carnage Park, writer and director Mikey Keating has stripped things down to exactly what you expect from this sort of movie – a fight for survival. While Keating borrows a bit from Tarantino – crime caper mixed with a few flashbacks – Carnage Park swerves its audience fairly early. The effect is to quickly put you at unease knowing that no one is safe. And Keating uses the flashbacks sparingly. Most of the focus in Carnage Park’s trim 80 minutes is on its cat-and-mouse game. If there’s a lack of originality – and Keating isn’t re-inventing the wheel – this thriller milks its concept for maximum suspense. Aside from a handful of detours to the movie’s sheriff, the focus is squarely on its relentless hunt.
Most of the focus in Carnage Park’s trim 80 minutes is on its cat-and-mouse game.
Arguably, Carnage Park is at its best in its claustrophobic final act. Keating’s use of the dark, tight tunnels, flashing lights, and distorted sound creates a disorienting sensation. However, its ‘based on a true story’ conceit adds little in part because its been too often. Its sun-soaked desert landscape and basic premise will also remind audiences of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wolf Creek, among other survival horror movies. There’s a helping of disturbing imagery and brutal violence, but Carnage Park never approaches the same level of depravity of Wolf Creek.
Carnage Park Made All The More Unnerving By Pat Healy’s Performance
Amongst its small cast, Carnage Park boasts a few familiar faces for horror fans. Succession’s Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Freaky) is the most recognizable name here. Though it’s a small role, Ruck is always reliable even if he feels a little out of place. Neither James Landry Hebert (Psychopaths) nor Michael Villar make much of impression for better or worse. Instead Carnage Park tasks the bulk of heavy lifting to Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism) and Pat Healy (The Innkeepers). Though Bell’s range feels limited, she’s convincing enough in a movie that doesn’t slow down enough to let you think too long.
… Healy’s ‘Wyatt Moss’ feels a little scarier after the 2021 Capitol Hill attack.
But Healy certainly makes an impression as the psychopathic sniper, Wyatt Moss. His unhinged religious fanatic and survivalist makes for an unnerving villain. The contrast between his almost meek appearance and complete lack of empathy elevates the final act’s tension. While he doesn’t quite reach the heights of John Jarratt’s ‘Mick Taylor’, Healy’s ‘Wyatt Moss’ feels a little scarier after the 2021 Capitol Hill attack. Indie horror veteran Larry Fessenden (Jakob’s Wife, The Ranger) shows up as well for a small appearance.
Carnage Park Effectively Recycles Familiar 70s Survival Horror
Though it doesn’t tread new ground, Carnage Park effortlessly blends survival horror and Tarantino-esque crime caper. The results are a brutally lean, white-knuckle thriller. And there’s enough stylistic flourishes throughout the movie to compensate for its similarities to similar fare. Once Keating puts his characters in harm’s way, Carnage Park is relentless with a nihilistic atmosphere. It won’t be for everyone, but horror fans who just want to enjoy 90 minutes or so of stripped own survival horror should enjoy this one.