American Carnage (2022) Is Rather Tame Political Horror
Title: American Carnage
First Non-Festival Release: July 15, 2022 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Diego Hallivis
Writer: Diego Hallivis, Julio Hallivis
Runtime: 101 Minutes
Starring: Jenna Ortega, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Allen Maldonado, Eric Dane
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Immigration has been a contentious topic of debate in the United States for as long as this reviewer has been alive. The debate has only worsened as politicians play with people’s lives, often putting marginalized people in the center of their game. Cue American Carnage, a horror mystery that overtly satirizes society’s response to immigration while centering the experiences of undocumented people.
JP (Jorge Lendeborg Jr) is celebrating his sister Lily’s (Yumarie Morales) acceptance into college when her graduation party is raided by ICE. Once taken to a detainment facility, JP is offered a choice to reduce his sentence of aided an undocumented person. He can choose to participate in a program where he will help senior citizens at a nursing home or he can await his day in court. JP, and many others, choose the former.
Derivative topical horror American Carnage gets lost in predictable twists despite its stacked cast and promising setup.
American Carnage takes its time with the setup but fails to do anything interesting with all its elements. From the beginning, American Carnage is not subtle about its approach to horror or mystery. Without giving the crew time to breathe, the chaos immediately begins. All the beats of the plot come together in the most obvious ways, despite some final act twists. On-the-nose dialogue and lazily hidden clues, make it painfully easy to predict the plot progression beat-for-beat. Eventually, its desire to become the next hit horror movie with overt socio-political messaging supersedes its general plot.
Despite some throwaway remarks about aging, most of the commentary American Carnage is based on rhetoric surrounding undocumented immigrants in the United States. Once all the cards are revealed, it is clear that the intentions behind the program JP and company volunteer for are less than sincere. Throughout the film, the general treatment of the youths, both citizens and undocumented, is poor. Nearly every aspect of this is done blatantly leaving no room for doubt. Given the subject matter, it fits the experience but it makes the film feel one-note.
Revelations later emerge in the film that add some depth to the story but others take away from it. American Carnage has not one, not two, but three separate villain monologues and montages explaining the process of what is happening and explaining exactly how they will get away with it. Not only is it insulting to the viewer, where most of this can be condensed into one moment but also feels like a wasted opportunity to show and not tell everything.
The cast does a fine job with the material but it is very clear they are bored. The typically lively Jenna Ortega appears asleep at the wheel, phoning her stock angsty young adult Camilla. Jorge Lendeborg Jr, a usually affable lead, looks lost, as if there is so little direction that he doesn’t know what is next. The rest of the cast are equally as fine but in much more forgettable roles.
All is not terrible in American Carnage despite its basic approach to storytelling. The structural arguments against the racism and xenophobia hit hard thanks to the thoroughness of the critiques against American immigration policy. Nearly every institution that needs a check is checked, and American Carnage leaves no stone unturned. From a scare standpoint, the film also does a solid job at creating tension in its final act. Mixing some great imagery and throwbacks from earlier films with fun and exciting sequences in the final battle.
The elements of a good film are in American Carnage: a stellar cast, hot-button political commentary, and stylistic direction. Unfortunately, its scripts weak handling of its story, characters, and social commentary makes this indie film difficult to root for. For casual viewers, there is enough onscreen mayhem to satisfy their need for frights, and laughs when the moment is right, but those seeking more will find themselves hungry.
Overall Score? 5/10