This badass genre film is one part crime caper plus one part survivalist horror with a big helping of bloody goodness mixed in for good measure. This is one damn intense thriller of a movie from young filmmaker Mickey Keating, obviously a huge film fan himself (we all know movie fans often make the best movies). I have no problem proclaiming Keating as one of the most skilled indie filmmakers working today: I can only imagine what he could do with a big budget.
An obvious homage to low budget grindhouse flicks from the 1970s, this movie is undeniably cool. At first I was concerned it was going to be another Tarantino ripoff but it’s not. It’s filled with spectacular visual tributes to splatter cinema of the past but manages to feel fresh and vibrant and new.
Before you dismiss “Carnage Park” as all style over substance, I can assure you it’s not. The meticulous period detail really works with the story of innocents let loose in the remote desert to be hunted by a maniacal psychopath. The actors are thoughtfully cast and all of them, down to the minor supporting players (which includes James Landry Hebert, Michael Villar, and Alan Ruck), give fresh, raw performances. Ashley Bell and the always fantastic Pat Healy are standouts as the predator and prey. The storyline may be a basic one, but they manage to make and keep it exciting.
While Keating certainly has a knack for splashy visuals, there’s no denying he also has an insane eye for detail — matched only by his skill at building seat-squirming, armrest-gripping tension for his audience. I think he will only improve as he continues to work and grow as a filmmaker (his direction isn’t completely perfect: the experimental-style black and white inverted shots in this film may look cool but serve no real purpose).
Despite the minor faults, this is what indie film is all about. And Keating is one of the most exciting voices I’ve seen in recent cinema.
“Carnage Park” is ferocious display of talent by its young writer-director Mickey Keating. The movie begins as a rather run-of-the-mill heist movie (with a quick homage to Quentin Tarantino) and quickly becomes something else entirely when it descends into straight-up horror.
Supported by a strong cast with serious indie credentials (including standouts Ashley Bell and Pat Healy), “Carnage Park” effectively uses its 1970’s setting in the sparsely-populated California desert to maximum effect. Out here, the land is dry, the elements are harsh, and the locals aren’t exactly friendly. These people are either desperate from their circumstances, crazy from the heat, or simply insane from the recent war in Vietnam. Pitting a resourceful protagonist against a brutally clever and evil killer is a classic horror formula that works well in the right hands. And director Keating definitely knows what he is doing here.
Keating is fluent in the language of film and horror; he knows his movies, and it shows. A soundtrack that is alternately disturbing and jarring accompanies a story that marries together “First Blood” with “My Bloody Valentine,” with a healthy helping of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “House of 1000 Corpses” thrown in to boot. The real-time events are quickly interspersed with unsettling images that are effective in ratcheting up the tension and suspense.
While it won’t be a game-changer for horror like previous Sundance horror standouts “Saw” and “The Blair Witch Project,” this skillfully-crafted movie should be one of the most talked-about genre movies of the year. I can’t wait to see what Keating does next.