Opening with a voiceover and montage of political speeches and news broadcasts on the topic of immigration, American Carnage immediately introduces us to JP (Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Spider-Man: Far from Home, Bumblebee) and his sister Lily (Yumarie Morales, Killer Therapy, Hypochondriac). She’s just been accepted into college, but what should be a happy family celebration is interrupted as an ICE SWAT team kicks in the door.
And here we run into a major issue with American Carnage’s plotting. The raid is one of many called for under an executive order signed by Governor Haper Finn (Brett Cullen, The Shallows, Joker). Immigration policy and enforcement is a federal matter, an executive order by a state governor would have no force. And even if it did, ICE is a federal agency, it doesn’t take orders from state governments. It doesn’t really affect the plot, but it’s annoying to anyone familiar with the law.
Be that as it may, JP finds himself in custody and separated from Lily. He’s offered a deal where, if he volunteers to help at an elderly care facility the charges against him will be dropped. There he meets Camilla (Jenna Ortega, X, Studio 666), Chris (Jorge Diaz, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, The 33), Micah (Bella Ortiz, The Field), and Big Mac (Allen Maldonado, Heels, The Last O.G.). He also meets their supervisor, Eddie (Eric Dane. Grey’s Anatomy, The Last Ship).
Director Diego Hallivis (Curvature, Game Time) and co-writer Julio Hallivis use the first half-hour to set up the situation and introduce us to the film’s characters. Some of it is a bit heavy-handed, and depending on your position on immigration may seem even more so. I do however give them credit for including both Democrats and Republicans among the politicians in the opening montage.
Once they get to Owl Manor it doesn’t take long for strange events to start occurring. It’s obvious that this is no ordinary nursing home, but what’s actually going on is worse than they could imagine.
It’s not until the death of Mr. Phillips (Troy James, Anything for Jackson, Nightmare Alley) that the film really moves into what could be called horror territory. But even then it takes until the hour mark for American Carnage to fully change gears. And if you figured there was a reason they were recruiting young people for this project, then you’ll probably already have guessed what’s going on too.
The last forty minutes do deliver so tension and nasty goings-on, but despite its title and “R” rating in part for “disturbing violence and gore” there really isn’t a lot of onscreen carnage in American Carnage until the last few minutes which feature, I think, the first use of a catheter bag as an instrument of death. It’s just too bad the subplot involving the disposal of the bodies didn’t play a bigger part in the proceedings, the potential for dark humor there was immense.
American Carnage is certainly an entertaining film, but it really needed to be more focused on what it wanted to be. The immigration and racism issues are a large part of the film’s beginning but then all but vanish until the climax. The horror is soft peddled through the middle of the film before finally taking center stage. And while it’s supposed to be a horror-comedy, I didn’t notice much humour, just a missed opportunity for it.
If they had focused more on horror, American Carnage could have been a much better film. Or if they’d gone for the Corpse Grinder/Soylent Green angle and made it a dark comedy It probably would have been better. Instead, there’s a bit of political commentary, a few scares, and a very few funny moments. It’s still worth a watch, but it falls short of what it should have been.