American Carnage is in theaters and available on demand on July 15, 2022.
Diego Hallivis’ American Carnage gets its name from a deplorable Donald Trump quote uttered during his 16-minute inauguration speech in which he used “American Carnage” to describe everything that wasn’t his ideal America: the one where wealthy white socialites can close borders to “outsiders,” breed putrid misogyny, and uphold the systemic racism instituted by our forefathers. I say this to set the mood of Diego and Julio Hallivis’ screenplay, which carries momentum from Jordan Peele’s Get Out into problems surrounding ICE raids and xenophobia. Their main character flaunts bedroom posters of Peele’s Us and Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block to convey the film’s themes early. That rage against rusted American ideal machines powers this scrappy-with-attitude horror flick about what it feels like to have your lives dictated by crooked government agendas.
Swirl Get Out with The Forever Purge, and that’s close to describing American Carnage at its basest structure. Children of immigrants like JP (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), Camila (Jenna Ortega), and Big Mac (Allen Maldonado) are shoved in cages, then offered a choice — face deportation or work a few months as elder care aids for the E.A.T.U. (Elderly American Tolerance Understanding) program under creator Eddie (Eric Dane). They all pick reading to Alzheimer’s patients to protect their families, but something isn’t right. The Hallivis brothers embrace freakish genre extremes as JP sees more and more corruption at the Owl Cove elderly facility, channeling the fantastical racism of something like Gigi Saul Guerrero’s red, white, and bruised Culture Shock.
Maybe it’s strange to compliment American Carnage as “fun,” because its core frustrations in America’s anti-immigration issues are appropriately disheartening — but there’s this spunky protestor’s vibe to it all. It’s enraging, yet Diego and Julio understand that humor distills these heavily political statements down to much more palatable mediums for audiences. Allen Maldonado is hilarious as “Big Mac,” nicknamed because he likes “big women,” since he’s the smartass of the group with street intelligence who keeps reacting to incarceration horrors with vocal emphasis. Jenna Ortega gets her jabs in as a punkish rebel who delights with her no-shits-given shell, while Jorge Lendeborg Jr. does more of the straight-man schtick whose disbelief is his own source of humor. Their characters’ worlds crumble like Pompeii, yet we’re still permitted to chuckle amidst their immediate danger.
As a horror film, American Carnage hits and misses with the expectancies of its storytelling ambitions. Owl Cove’s secrets run thick as the whitewashed facility reveals ties to fearmongering politician Harper Finn (Brett Cullen). It doesn’t take JP’s crew long to distinguish community service from imprisonment. Without getting into spoilers, there’s some inconsistent work done with makeup that’s both a distraction and weak red herring, as well as mistranslations in metaphors that don’t solidify villainous master plans in bulletproof armor. American Carnage gets wild, and that’s rad, but it’s sometimes at a detriment to serving exploitation cinema’s outlandishness over tightening storytelling nuts and bolts.
That’s the ultimate frustration with a poignant and guns-blazing horror film that’s empowered to be as extravagant as desired because sometimes the polish isn’t there. American Carnage does so well when focusing on dystopian nightmares that sure resemble ICE raids with tragic results, yet isn’t always as productive with its fantasy-terror elements — even when they’re terrifying. Credit monster actor “Twisty” Troy James for his bone-snapping contortionist work under senior citizen makeup when possession-like effects are required because American Carnage loves being this grab-bag of horror influences. While unbalanced, you’ll still get your squishy bodily gore and deep-state conspiracies in response to a lamentable period in American politics (lingering like a cursed cough) — solid messaging, bonkers conceptualization, and back-and-forth execution will be nothing less than divisive.