by Hope Madden
Writer/director Mickey Keating says his newest effort, Carnage Park, owes a debt to Sam Peckinpah and Peter Watkins – and their influence is certainly apparent, right down to the film’s title, cribbed from Watkins’s desert terror Punishment Park. Still, the film itself boils down to a poor man’s Wolf Creek as directed by Quentin Tarantino.
Actually, that sounds a lot better than it is.
It’s the California desert of 1978. Two armed men carrying a bullet wound, bag of cash and hostage flee a small town bank heist. They lose a trail of cops via a hidden, hilly dirt road.
All the swagger, dusty boots and retro Seventies soundtrack in the world can’t shield Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hebert) and farm girl hostage Vivian (Ashley Bell) from the much larger danger they’ve just driven into.
Keating’s amassing quite a list and variety of indie horror films. His style is homage. Where Carnage Park aspires to the gritty look and desperate feel of the road pics of the indie American Seventies, last year’s Darling offered a stylish ode to both Kubrick and Polanski.
This approach need not feel derivative. Let’s be honest, Tarantino’s become among the most lauded and watched filmmakers of his generation by doing the exact same thing. The big difference is that QT’s take on all the cinema that has come before is filtered through his own lunatic genius, the final product becoming uniquely, fantastically his own.
There’s something more workmanlike, less inspired in what Keating does.
That’s not to say Carnage Park is an abject failure. A game cast keeps the film intriguing. Bell is deceptively savvy (aside from a few wildly idiotic mistakes, but let’s be honest, screenwriter Keating is to blame for those). Genre favorite Pat Healy chews some scenery, playing against type as the damaged Vietnam vet cliché, while Larry Fessenden (a regular and welcome contributor to Keating’s canon) shows up for a quick and gory moment or two.
But from the bleached out yellow of the scenery to nearly every set piece, Keating’s habit of lifting from other films takes on the feel of compulsion. Larceny, even: The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Reservoir Dogs – the list is bloody, hip and endless. And tired.
Keating has proven many strengths in his few years in filmmaking, but it is time for him to develop his own style.