'Carnage Park' film review: All style, little substance to this grindhouse homage

'Carnage Park' film review: All style, little substance to this grindhouse homage

 "Carnage Park" opens in select cities July 1. (Photo courtesy of IFC Films, used with permission.)

"Carnage Park" opens in select cities July 1. (Photo courtesy of IFC Films, used with permission.)

Far more calories were spent in building the gritty tone and atmosphere of this throwback flick than were spent on developing either the story or characters of "Carnage Park" (now playing in select cities and available on VOD).

In short: A bank robber and his hostage find themselves trapped in deadly game of cat-and-mouse as a deranged ex-military sniper (Pat Healy) hunts them down for sport. (Watch the trailer)

The effort to reproduce the gritty, retro vibe of the '70s grindhouse horror exceeded the effort that went fleshing out any sort of story. This thin throwback flick is a classic case study in "style over substance." If the sole directive was to purely re-create a film from a bygone era, then mission accomplished - the classic grindhouse film of the '70s were just as shallow as this 2016 iteration. This film succeeds in capturing the exploitation cult genre, but fails to be even mildly entertaining.

"Carnage Park" Is neither fun enough to endorse this flick nor creative enough to advance the gritty flicks it is celebrating. Even at a short 81 minutes, this movie feels like a chore because very little happens to a poorly developed character in an equally undeveloped situation. Ultimately, "Carnage Park" is just an exercise in watching a hapless girl stumble around a gore-filled obstacle course as she evades a poorly-defined psychopath. The protagonist isn't particularly engaging or smart - aside from the base level empathy of hoping the protagonist doesn't die (a minimal connection at best), it's difficult to truly connect with her as a character.

Okay, so the protagonist is flat - but at least the park of horrors is fun, right? No, at least not legitimately fun because "Carnage" resorts to cartoonish gore, an annoying sound design and silly/creepy cackling to lazily manipulate the audience into terror. The script is so anemic that it concocts an odd b-plot involving the psychopath's brother -- whose actions do very little to affect the story.

About the only aspect of "Carnage" that works at all is Pat Healy's restrained and unhinged serial killer - and he only works when the character is on-screen (as opposed to the disembodied voice he becomes at certain long stretches). He is utterly creepy, emotionally distant and totally righteous in his actions. While the protagonist desperately needed some character development, Healy's performance is so elementally unsettling that his character doesn't need any sort of backstory - it's OK that he's just a mask-wearing nutjob with a bloodlust. While the performance is strong, the character himself is frustrating - there's simply no logic to his abilities. He seems to be everywhere and no where all at once. He pops up when it's convenient for him and he disappears for long stretches for no reason.

Final verdict: "Carnage Park" is all gimmick and no substance.

Score: 2/5

"Carnage Park" screened during the 42nd Seattle International Film Festival, is now playing select cities and is available via VOD. It has a running time of 81 minutes and is not yet rated.

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