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The Park Movie Review- Brutal, Emotional, And Completely Captivating

The Park has all the wonder of a child’s dream, the savagery of Lord Of The Flies, and the emotionality of Michael Grant’s Gone series. It features a great trio of child actors, a timely premise, and a gooey heart of gold that is hard not to love.

We have all seen stories like this. Netflix gave us the short-lived but addicting The Society, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series and the brutal gorefest Battle Royale are all about what happens when societal rules break down, and kids have to pick up the pieces. Some are better than others, and in some cases, adults haven’t all disappeared; we just wish they had. Shal Ngo’s feature debut is the best of all of those things. The Park is a pandemic movie with as many emotional as life consequences. Like Life of Pi, it feels like a fairy tale of violence and ruthlessness that masks more significant lessons. Life isn’t about survival. It is about living for each other and hoping for a better future.

The Park
Courtesy of XYZ Films

A global disease affecting those who have gone through puberty has killed off everyone over fourteen. Any prepubescent child is safe until they age out of immunity. The world is now run by children with zero adult supervision, safety, or guidance. It is the Hunger Games out there, and only the strong survive. The rub is that unless a cure is found, they only survive long enough for the disease to get them. It’s rather hopeless stuff that curiously makes us care for the poor kids even more than if they had a clear future.

We first meet a masked Ines and Bui in the woods. They attack a young boy and kill him for his meager supplies. In a heartwrenching reveal, he only had matchbox cars. In that one moment, the world is grounded and devastatingly defined. These are kids. They are messy and dumb, and they make terrible decisions. Everything you need to know about The Park stems from this one brutal scene. There is very little gore, which isn’t required because the sound design and our imaginations fill in the details. They may be children, but they are deadly.

Chloe Guidry, a superbly understated Ines, is smart, resourceful, and brave. Bui(Nhedrick Habier) is her partner, and it is clear these two have history. Their shared experiences and Ines’ past are teased out throughout the entirety of the movie. Patiently their backstory is revealed, allowing us to know who they are now as we see who they were and later the predators they became. Those narrative choices allowed us to care about them even when appalled by their behavior. When they stumble on an abandoned amusement park on their way to a rumored cure, they meet Kuan. That changes everything.

The delightfully quirky Kuan, a scene-stealing Carmina Garay, is an optimistic inventor who imbues every scene with Corey Feldman’s Edgar Frog energy. She is endearing and goofy and wears down the more world-weary Ines with her hopeful outlook. Kuan spends her days working on the park, trying to restore it. She wants nothing more than to save the world through happiness. She isn’t convinced there is a medical remedy, but she thinks maybe positivity is the cure for all the unkindness. It’s a sweet sentiment that might have been cloying in another film, but Garay is so likable, and Guidry is such a tremendous stoic foil for her; their interactions are tender and not trite.

While Kuan works on the park and the hardened shell of Ines, Bui is chained up high on a ride. It is a source of conflict that comes to a head when the threat of a group of boogeymen called the Blue Meanies infiltrates their Shangri La. Ines has to decide what matters most. Her time in the amusement park changed her. She no longer wants to simply survive. Like Kuan, she wants to leave the world a better place.

The gorgeous set piece that is as depressing as it is a symbol of hope is as much a character as the kids. There is something magical about the decaying amusement park seen through Kuan’s eyes. It’s a heartbreaking kind of wish fulfillment that is as sad as it is scary. The Park reminds me of IFC Midnight’s The Innocents, which is high praise. Children are capable of tremendous good and evil. In the blink of an eye, that can serve as a beacon of light or our worst enemy. It’s why there are so many creepy kids movies.

There’s a final act reveal that I wanted to hate. It is all a bit too sappy, yet I was utterly drawn in despite my reservations. By the end, I was fully immersed in this world Ngo built. I cared deeply for their futures. That is the biggest message of The Park; without joy, life is meaningless. Call me corny. Maybe all we need is a little hope.

The Park is available VOD everywhere on March 2nd. Watch the trailer below.