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Putting together a modern horror film is akin to following a popular recipe and while some dress that up with different flavors of hot social or political issues, it all boils down to the same core ingredients – throw some attractive young people into a nightmare scenario and bake ’til bloody messy. Tastes vary. But has anyone thought to toss in banking?
With Central Park, a new film premiering at the Dances With Films film festival, someone did, and there’s a lot that is familiar, with a collection of diverse teens pitted against a maniac with a knife, though the setting and motivation are certainly unique. We learn as the opening credits are rolling that a ponzi scheme “bigger than Madoff” has disgraced a bigwig billionaire, so friends of his troubled teen son rally around him to boost his morale. He is Harold Smith (Justiin A. Davis), a chain-smoking rebellious but popular kid with a beautiful girlfriend Leyla (Grace Van Patten), and along with four other rich misfits and casual drug-users, decided a night in Central Park is just the thing to blow off some steam. Too bad a madman with a hunting knife and a lot of masking tape has been hunting them all day, waiting for night to fall and the Park to swallow them whole.
Directed by Justin Reinsilber, in his feature film debut, Central Park is, like many of the ilk, a two-sided game that is one part potboiler story tropes, including overly-done teen stereotypes who make poor decisions, and one part genuine good storytelling that work with surprising punch. The goal here is a simple one, setup the premise and start whittling away at the body count, the twist being that instead of an old cabin in the woods, the teens are trapped in a park with a killer. That the killer is in fact a clever reveal with some solid motivations, elevates this a bit above the countless string of others in the genre. That and a second half that transcends its start.
Kudos go to Reinsilber for some tight direction and great use of the city, steering away from many of the more obvious landmarks and clichéd hotspots, instead taking us on a quick tour at the start of the uptown teen scene before ending up in the darkened park, all filmed on location. Like legends of monsters in the woods that add source for standard horror, New York’s Central Park has its own lore and Reinsilber has some fun with these in a few moments that harken to the classics.
That said, there isn’t much here that we haven’t seen before, with scared teens running around making easy targets for the hunter, though a few supporting characters, including veteran television actors Marina Squerciati and Charles Borland, deliver the best moments. It’s a nod to Reinsilber for convincing us that in a city with millions, the characters feel so isolated and while the movie is almost completely free of gore or any real on-screen violence, it manages to sustain some quality jumps. The film depends mostly on its tension to sustain it, with it’s 80s-esque synth score giving it a throwback horror feel. That’s either going to work for you or be a distraction, which is a suitable summation of the entire experience, as Central Park has enough that will satisfy fans of the genre and still be plenty for anyone looking for a decent distraction.
Central Park screens at Dances With Films, in Hollywood June 3rd.
Movie description: Central Park is a 2017 horror/thriller film about a group of high schoolers who plan for a night of fun in New York's famous park, only to find terror is waiting for them.
Director(s): Justin Reinsilber
Actor(s): Grace Van Patten, Marina Squerciati, Ruby Modine
Genre: Horror, Thriller