‘Carnage Park’ is a neo-Western with a twist
When writer/director Mickey Keating set out to make "Carnage Park," which will run in the Sundance Film Festival’s Midnight category, he did so with a clear idea in his head of what he wanted it to be. The year is 1978, and the story centers on a bank heist gone wrong. A hostage is taken, and the criminals set out into the desert to make their escape. From here, the movie takes a turn toward the horrific.
"What we wanted to do was make it a real ’70s-style American crime film that somehow turns terrifying and horrific as the movie progresses," he said. "So we really wanted to make it a love letter to Sam Peckinpah and those kind of 70s Neo-Westerns. But also have it be a survival horror movie in the same vein as ‘The Most Dangerous Game’ and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.’ Oh, and ‘The Hills Have Eyes,’ of course."
Keating said he was inspired to make "Carnage Park" in part because of the state of the horror genre today. Keating said he wanted to see more horror films with a realistic bent, so he made one himself.
"I’m just very fascinated by the idea of realism in horror," he said. "I think the genre at the time I wrote this one was all about supernatural hauntings, ghost movies, haunted houses. And while I love those films and that subgenre of horror, I think what really appealed to me is the inherent fear of getting lost in the middle of nowhere and stumbling upon somebody who is absolutely out of their minds.
"Humanity as its own monster is really what kind of drove me to tell this one."
Keating said commercial horror movies have a predictable structure, and with "Carnage Park" he wanted to play with those conventions and throw off his audience.
"I think what is very important for me as a filmmaker is, when the audience sits down to watch the movie, hopefully there are enough familiar ideas or themes but they have no idea where the movie is going," he said. "I think the kind of disappointing thing about horror, especially lately, is that everyone can kind of anticipate where each movie is going to go. There are very set guidelines for commercial horror movies that are familiar to the audience, and my goal and hope was to have people come out of my movie and say, ‘throughout the entire time, I didn’t know where it was going.’"
Convincing financiers to make "Carnage Park" took more time than Keating would have liked, he said, because the film’s plot taking a sudden turn scared some of them off. He said his point of reference when he pitched the film was "Psycho."
"It all comes back to ‘Psycho,’ because the beginning of it is a satisfying picture all by itself," he said. "When I watched it, I wanted to see [Marion Crane] get away with the money, flee from the cops — and then there’s a bizarre shift."
When he finally did get the greenlight to make the movie, the cast and crew headed out into the California desert — in May.
"That was pretty ill-advised because I guess it’s rattlesnake baby season out there," he said. "And you know, half the movie is people running through the desert and that rough terrain."
Another wrinkle that Keating said he now considers fortuitous was a sudden storm that rolled in during the shoot.
"In the middle of this incredible California drought, it starts raining for days, in our all-exterior desert shoot" he said. "I think it actually was a blessing in disguise because our movie is very overcast and strange-looking and I don’t know that I’ve seen very many cloudy desert horror movies."
Keating submitted "Carnage Park" for Sundance with no expectations of it getting in. He called Sundance the "pinnacle of filmmaking achievement" and said he didn’t dare get his hopes up.
"I got the call and as soon as he identified himself as being from Sundance I thought, oh, well, he was nice enough to call me personally to let me know the film didn’t get in," Keating said. "When he said we were in, I think I stopped right in the middle of the street. I was in total shock. It’s the best news I’ve ever received in my life."
Sundance will screen "Carnage Park" at the Library Center Theatre at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26; at the Prospector Square Theatre at 8:45 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27; at the Broadway Centre Cinema 3 at 3:45 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28; and at the Library Center Theatre at 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30. For more information and tickets visit http://www.Sundance.org.
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The film captures a transparent self-portrait of the American wilderness, emphasizing the importance of communication that goes beyond listening for the sake of responding.