Like a speeding bullet through the dry, desert air comes Mickey Keating’s Carnage Park, a masterfully horrific true crime story about a loner psycho (Pat Healy) and the unfortunate woman by the name of Vivian (Ashley Bell), who ends up crossing his path one ill-fated day.
Taut, frenetic and pulsing with a ripened tension from beginning to end, Carnage Park is easily the best work from emerging filmmaker Mickey Keating and features sensational performances from its entire cast. With a sense of swagger and an unflinching pace, Carnage Park is truly a cinematic triumph from top to bottom.
Carnage Park opens with a bank robbery masterminded by the dangerous Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hébert), who decides to hold up a small financial institution in Mackin County with the help of his hapless pal, Lenny (Michael Villar). Things go awry and Joe ends up taking a hostage, Bell’s character Vivian, and as they do their best to escape the cops, Joe tries to hide out in the desert mountains but quickly finds out he’s got more problems than the police who are hot on his trail. Enter Wyatt, a psychotic who doesn’t take kindly to strangers trespassing on his land and from there, the game is on as Wyatt won’t stop until anyone who comes on his land dies by his own death-dealing hands.
Lately, we’ve hit a bit of a nostalgia wave when it comes to genre films, and while I do enjoy that approach when done properly, what makes Carnage Park such a standout is that it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to pay homage to the late 1970s, it feels like a movie that was plucked right out of that decade.
Keating has quickly proven over the last several years that he’s a talent to keep an eye on, with films like Ritual, Pod, Darling and his latest, Carnage Park. He helmed all four projects in just three years and with each effort, Keating demonstrates real growth and confidence as a storyteller. While I didn’t completely love his earlier films, Carnage Park establishes Keating as one of the most promising voices in modern horror and I hope this is just the beginning for his burgeoning talents.
There’s not a single wasted frame in Carnage Park. Keating and his phenomenal cast make every moment, every word, every single movement over the vast terrain of the film count, and that kind of attention is so rare. Whereas his other films felt a bit confined, Carnage Park has this sprawling, sun-soaked feel to it which only elevates the terror awaiting anyone who has the misfortune of ending up on Wyatt’s savage playground.
Healy as Carnage Park’s antagonist Wyatt is akin to watching a walking, talking powder keg on the screen. A war veteran undoubtedly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Wyatt is a caustic force of nature with a total disregard for anyone and everyone, including his own brother (played by the always awesome Alan Ruck). Bell also turns in a remarkable performance as well and what I loved about her character Vivian is that despite everything Wyatt puts her through, she still remains her true self, never compromising her caring disposition. That doesn’t mean Vivian just rolls over during Wyatt’s “game”, either, but it’s the way Bell balances her character’s inner warrior all while radiating this sense of humanity that you can’t help but want this poor girl to survive the harrowing ordeal.
Carnage Park was the final film I had the pleasure of checking out during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and I could not have asked for a better cinematic experience to end on. Unpredictable, relentless and brutally cool, Carnage Park is a confidently made modern crime masterpiece that’s wholly unforgettable and never once takes it foot off the gas. I cannot recommend Carnage Park enough.
Movie Score: 5/5