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Dustin Putman

Carnage Park  (2016)
2½ Stars
Directed by Mickey Keating.
Cast: Ashley Bell, Pat Healy, James Landry Hébert, Alan Ruck, Michael Villar, Bob Bancroft, Larry Fessenden, Graham Skipper, Darby Stanchfield.
2016 – 81 minutes
Not Rated (equivalent of an R for strong brutal violence and gore, and for language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, October 24, 2016.
When bank customer Vivian (Ashley Bell) is taken hostage following a robbery gone awry, her main concern, as one would imagine, is to survive her ordeal and escape from captors Joe Clay (James Landry Hébert) and Lenny (Michael Villar). She has no possible way of knowing an even graver threat lurks amidst the desert hills, a lunatic sniper named Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy) who has killed upwards of two dozen passersby and has no plans of putting up his gun anytime soon. Written and directed by Mickey Keating with a noirish verve reminding in its best moments of Quentin Tarantino by way of Ti West's "Trigger Man" and Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2," "Carnage Park" tightens like a metal coil until a finale that falls mostly flat. Until this overly dark, slackly edited third act, the film has the enraptured viewer firmly in its grasp.

Ashley Bell (2013's "The Last Exorcism Part II") is tremendous as Vivian, diving into a physically and emotionally draining lead role with the strength and cleverness to match her vulnerability. Vivian's initial financially strapped circumstances—she is trying to save her ill father's dirt farm—must take a back seat when she is thrust into an unthinkable nightmare, and Bell carries the picture throughout. As intense and no-nonsense as the narrative is, it is also decidedly thin, even at 81 minutes. And so, while Bell and a calm-nerved, wild-eyed Pat Healy (2014's "Cheap Thrills") make for oft-sensational adversaries, a sneaking feeling of repetitiveness enters the proceedings as these two play cat-and-mouse games amidst a dusty, remote wasteland. The third act, especially, loses some crucial urgency in its visual murkiness and too-frequent fade-in/fade-out transitions. What remains is a keen eye for performance and dialogue, and a vivid propensity for evocative, yellow-hued imagery courtesy of cinematographer Mac Fisken, all the better to slip back in time to its 1978 setting. "Carnage Park" is a solid, unsparing thriller, but its potential for greatness slips just out of grasp during its climactic stretch.
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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