Carnage Park vs. The Hunt: Who wins the survival-horror battle?

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: Ashley Bell and Mickey Keating attends the "Psychopaths" Premiere during 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Cinepolis Chelsea on April 20, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: Ashley Bell and Mickey Keating attends the "Psychopaths" Premiere during 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Cinepolis Chelsea on April 20, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival) /

Carnage Park and The Hunt have some things in common, but only one comes across as a worthy addition to the survival-horror subgenre.

In 2019, The Hunt garnered controversy before anyone had seen the film proper. When it premiered on VOD earlier this year, the end result wasn’t worth all the amassed hype. If anything, it was another case of a studio using the time-tested method of blubbering hyperbole to get curious minds to take a peek. Mickey Keating’s 2016 sleeper, Carnage Park, touched on several of The Hunt‘s themes, with far more subtlety and nuance.

Keating has cranked out efforts that run the gamut from sci-fi (Pod), slasher (Psychopaths), and Polanski-esque mindf*** (Darling). Despite its title, Carnage Park doesn’t follow a conventional path, and is somewhat subdued when it comes to on-screen violence. That, however, doesn’t make it any less formidable as a survival-horror effort.

While The Hunt subsists on painted-on CG blood spatter, a large cast (including many “special guest stars”), and bountiful references to whatever’s been trending on Twitter for the last 4 years, Carnage Park is more streamlined, less heavy-handed in its messaging, and ultimately more haunting and endearing.

Vivian Fontaine (Ashley Bell) is in the wrong place at the wrong time as she pleads with an unsympathetic bank manager (Bob Bancroft) not to foreclose on the family farm. She’s accosted, off-camera, by small-time crooks “Scorpion” Joe Clay (James Landry Hebert) and the Steinbeck-esque Lenny (Michael Villard). After Joe and Lenny’s robbery attempt goes south, they find themselves in a world of hurt when they cross the boundary from “civil society” into the titular desert wilderness, presided over by Army veteran Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy).

More from 1428 Elm

What ensues is Vivian’s fight for survival, and there’s something to be said for the contrast of her character against, say, Crystal (Betty Gilpin) in The Hunt. Vivian begins the film as a plaintive, desperate individual who grows tougher out of necessity as the situation wears on. Crystal, however, is a snarky by-product of screenwriting arrogance, existing to deliver one-liners and dish out absurd violence as it becomes increasingly clear she’s the Final Girl.

With its sepia-tone aesthetic, 1978 setting, and frequent Tarantino-isms (including random montages, abrupt edits, and obscure foreign pop songs on the soundtrack), Keating cements his standing as the Brian De Palma of millennial horror. Like De Palma, he transfuses all the borrowed nods and winks into essential storytelling components, thus creating a completely new experience.

During the opening montage of desolate hills and valleys, Wyatt narrates in the style of Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men, a tale of have-nots stumbling into fortune, albeit at great cost. But Wyatt’s philosophy is one of reclamation in the face of a government that turns its back on veterans once “the war” is over. He may preside over untold acres of dirt, but the overriding principle is, it’s still his dirt.

I like how Vivian and Scorpion Joe are united in financial desperation, albeit from polar-opposite ends of the criminal spectrum. Vivian can’t contain her emotions as she unsuccessfully pleads with the bank manager, whereas Joe is cocky and arrogant, looking to take whatever he can as compensation for the bum hand life’s dealt him. It’s these severe differences in attitude that determine their characters’ fates: Joe’s gone against the grain of social mores by breaking the law, while Vivian has never had to fend for herself.

More from Horror Movies

The Hunt fluctuates between a couple of locations, none of which transcended an artificial appearance (even the dingy gas station looks fake), which ultimately negates any possible sense of mood or atmosphere. Carnage Park, on the other hand, is all about the ambiance of wide-open spaces periodically littered with sun-baked corpses. I always marvel at Keating’s locations, and how he utilizes them to the fullest (maybe he filmed the same hills from different angles, but the landscape always seems endless).

In its blatant attempts to capture the zeitgeist, The Hunt already feels like a relic of a bygone era, burning through online buzzwords and ironically-rendered violence with a self-satisfied grin. Meanwhile, Carnage Park will pause for an interlude where Vivian, fatigued by heat and the extenuating circumstances of a most unfortunate day, gazes in wonder at a lizard crawling on her hand. Moments like that exhibit a patience and love of craft that cements Keating’s film as an underrated treasure for horror fans seeking something unconventional.

dark. Next. Tenebrae and other horror hits on Arrow Video Channel in August

You can stream Carnage Park on VUDU, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime and iTunes.

Have you seen The Hunt and Carnage Park? Which production do you think is the better survivor-horror film? Let us know in the comments.