Writer/Director Mickey Keating is a force to be reckoned with in the horror genre. Several months ago, I was blown away by his film, Darling, which saw the director channeling his inner Kubrick and Polanski. Now, Keating returns with Carnage Park, a crime-thriller horror film inspired by the work of Sam Peckinpah and Peter Watkins – but did it live up to the standards set by his last film?
Written and directed by Keating, Carnage Park stars Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism), Pat Healy (basically everything), James Landry Hebert (Seven Psychopaths, Looper), and Alan Ruck (TV’s The Exorcist, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Twister), and tells the story of two thieves who escape into the desert with a hostage after robbing a local bank. The thieves inadvertently comes across “Carnage Park”, a private piece of land owned by Wyatt Moss (Healy), a Vietnam War veteran and skilled marksman who challenges the trespassers to fight and survive or be killed.
Without delving into spoilers, I can promise you that Keating’s film is a pulp-lover’s dream come true. Equal parts Quentin Tarantino, 70’s exploitation horror, and the Coen brothers, Carnage Park succeeds with sharply written dialogue and twisted humor coupled by beautiful imagery, tense thrills, and gallons of blood. If there’s been a better midnight movie in 2016, I haven’t seen it.
In addition to Keating’s assured direction, Carnage Park features fine performances from its talented cast. Ashley Bell has proven herself time and again as a great leading actress within the horror genre, and this remains true of her performance as the hostage who has been forced into this terrifying situation. Bell has a unique capability to alternate between exuding fear and necessary strength that shines throughout the 90 minute runtime. Pat Healy, too, is terrific in the role of Wyatt. Playing him as a man who is even more insane and disturbing than we see in the film’s opening scene, Healy’s villain is one that will stick with you long after the credits role.
The leads aren’t the only standout performances in Carnage Park, however. Alan Ruck, who has remained an underrated actor throughout the entirety of my life, does tremendous work as Sheriff Moss. Ruck’s sheriff walks a fine line between right and wrong, and Ruck brings the character to life in believable and subtly-humorous fashion. In addition, James Landry Hebert gives a noteworthy performance as Scorpion Joe, one of the two thieves. He brings a natural emotion and charisma to a character that might otherwise feel one-note. It’s worth mentioning, too, that he speaks my favorite line of dialogue in the film.
Other resounding highlights of Carnage Park include the music by Giona Ostinelli, which perfectly captures the unrelenting danger these characters find themselves in; the cinematography by Mac Fisken, who has again provided jaw-dropping imagery for Mickey Keating; and the incredible effects work, particularly when we see a character missing most of their head.
Carnage Park is pulp at its finest. While it doesn’t break much new ground, it stands as a unique-enough genre blend to feel fresh in its own right. This is intense, gorgeous, bloody cheese with great performances and thrills aplenty. It’s the best midnight movie of 2016, and I highly recommend it.