That writer/director Mickey Keating mimics the pulpy grindhouse trappings of Quentin Tarantino, and acknowledges the influence of greats such as Sam Peckinpah, does not make his tedious, sensationalist horror Carnage Park worth visiting. Especially as it seems every original idea he comes up with turns out to be a bad one, weighing down this barest of barebones thrillers with needless visual tricks and narrative jumping jacks. If there's any value in it to be found it comes strictly from the ever-reliable Ashley Bell, who continues to prove herself one of the genre's great scream queens.
A blanched color palette, supposedly slick retro music (including "Big Bad John", a Tarantino favorite), and vintage credits remind us that Keating REALLY wants this to feel like a '70s grindhouse experience. He's trying to capture the feel without any of their originality. So when each blandly-realized character debuts with a needless, hyper-stylized intro, it's only worth registering a shrug of indifference. One such character is Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hebert), a bank robber given a "cool" slo-motion strut and attitude that's obvious hat tip to Reservoir Dogs. His partner Lenny is badly wounded after a heist gone wrong, and in the scrum to get away they take a beautiful hostage, Vivian Fontaine (Bell), along for the ride, shoving her in the car trunk. We quickly learn a few details about the innocent Vivian, such as the reason she was in the wrong place at just the wrong time, but none of it is of any consequence.
Why? Because in a matter of moments most of these characters are dead, gunned down by a crazed ex-Vietnam veteran named Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy, nervous and intimidating as ever) who has turned this desolate patch of desert into his own personal killing ground. His brother's the local Sheriff (played by Alan Ruck) but he's done little to stop his sibling from sniping whoever he deems fit. We're treated to a few of Wyatt's flashbacks, mostly of anti-war protesters, but they do little to explain why he feels setting up a giant murder prison is a solution to his problems. He babbles a little bit about therapists and draft dodgers, a little more about the Bible, establishing that he's just totally gone off the deep end. And there doesn't seem to be any desire on Keating's part to flesh out Wyatt more, satisfied that his villain just be sufficiently nuts. As usual, Bell is fearless and capable as the angelic beauty trapped in a heinous, disgusting world she can't possibly understand. The hysterics she displays at the violence literally exploding around her isn't over-the-top it's right on point.
But it's not enough, and the film becomes a dull straight-line experience occasionally broken up by one grisly sequence or another. Faces get blown off by sniper fire, Vivian finds herself chained to headless corpses, mix and repeat. It becomes pretty clear the gore is Keating's sole purpose behind this particular film, perhaps hoping enough of it will set him on a pedestal with other masters of the macabre. The films Carnage Park tries to emulate have stood the test of time, which is why they are so frequently copied, particularly by burgeoning filmmakers trying to make a name for themselves. Perhaps someone should tell them the best way to do that is to dare and try something new.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5