REVIEW: Central Park (2017)

dir. Justin Reinsilber.

After stealing millions from his friends a New York financial advisor goes on the run, leaving his teenage son Harold (Justiin A. Davis) angry and ashamed. Turning to his friends for comfort the teens camp out in central park for an evening of pot, sex and campfire stories about a maniac that some say lives there, stalking the woods by night.

The slasher film has always been a type of morality play, where transgressions (normally sexual or substance-based) are punished with a bloody vengeance that simultaneously thrills yet re-affirms the normative coda of conservative hegemony. Of course times have changed somewhat since the sub-genre’s 80s slay-day, but the premise remains the same: sin, judgement, restoration. It’s a cycle reimagined here in writer/director Reinsilber’s debut but with a modernist twist, where the failings are less lascivious and more taken from recent headlines.

The fact this is a New York story is important, not just because of the eponymous urban park but also as it was a key site in the 2008 financial crash when Lehman Brothers tanked, sending the world into an economic (if not moral) panic. Interestingly when that organisation filed for bankruptcy it triggered the biggest drop in the Dow Jones since the Twin Tower attacks: another New York tragedy, and a parallel brought home when Harold’s friend Sessa (Ruby Modine) lays flowers for her father at the 9/11 Memorial. So although the teens might be the ones fulfilling classic victim tropes – rolling blunts, hooking up – the spectre of more 21st century crimes loom large; much like the masked killer who might be on their tracks.

As such there is an over-abundance of interesting ideas circling what is quintessentially a standard horror narrative: parental legacy and financial crimes, but also class war, police corruption and – as both Harold and his father are people of colour – the experience of Black men in capitalist America (a theme further underlined by the fact this was made when Trump – a son of New York – was Commander-in-chief).

However despite all this thematic weight proceedings never really come in for the kill. The performances across the board are very good – certainly much better than most slashers – but the plotting is staid and some of the editing choices disorientate, so that what starts as slickly-shot and smart descends into confusion, formula and dissatisfaction. It’s a shame, because there’s enough about what this film might have been still on screen, half-glimpsed yet lurking in the shadows.

Tim Coleman

CENTRAL PARK is out now on DVD and VOD.

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