Vague Visages’ The Park review contains minor spoilers. Shal Ngo’s 2023 movie stars Chloe Guidry, Carmina Garay and Nhedrick Jabier. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
The social media era spawned armies of pop culture punks. Gangs of uniform-wearing extremists defend their territory in online spaces and real-world settings while a world of outsiders seeking basic access fight back by weaponizing information and challenging community traditions. Of course, so many digital radicals in 2023 are fundamentally pop culture survivalists; people who feel threatened by their favorite things losing value. And then there’s a subculture of media consumers who share similar beliefs but don’t enjoy the comfort of institutional perks. Such individuals can’t afford to make certain mistakes — they are extremely offline. But when these people show their fangs and howl, the sound can penetrate any door that been’s slammed shut or locked completely. Shal Ngo’s feature directorial debut, The Park, makes a fascinating statement about how young millennials with real survivalist training might lead their peers after an apocalyptic event.
The Park immediately looks and feels like a low-budget version of The Hunger Games but separates itself from the franchise relatively quickly. As the Earth’s adults succumb to a deadly virus, a group of children strategize against each other at an abandoned theme park. “Long live the motherfucking Queen!” says main protagonist Ines (Chloe Guidry) during a flashback scene, shortly before reminding the jokester Quan (Carmina Garay) that “This ain’t The Hunger Games!” By removing social media from the narrative, along with social cliques, Ngo essentially strips the story down to a tale of optimism and companionship. Ines doesn’t necessarily need anybody to survive yet still wants a friend. Quan wants someone to joke around with but might not make it through the night. Is the friendship a cure? Or is it a disease?
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Ngo doesn’t make any revelatory statements about the human condition in The Park, but he also doesn’t treat the target audience with contempt. As Ines, Guidry does indeed look like a relative of Natalie Dormer’s Cressida of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 but receives strong dialogue to match the look. Ngo also underlines his protagonist’s youth with comedic lines such as “I’m sorry, but you’re weird, and I’m confused.” And even if the focal park lacks culture, the visual design and mise-en-scène — along with impressive overhead shots — reinforce the primary themes of loneliness, optimism and camaraderie.
There’s a Western influence during The Park’s early scenes that complements the use of country music needle-drops. Such artistic choices mostly benefit Ines as she grapples with past decisions while trying to form a genuine bond with Kuan. Overall, The Park is somewhat like a miniature version of the popular video game adaptation The Last of Us, with Guidry taking on the role of Pedro Pascal’s traumatized traveler Joe and Garay providing steady comic relief as a version of Bella Ramsey’s Ellie. However, a romance-themed subplot complicates the storyline and vibes with the tension between young female characters in the aforementioned HBO series.
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The Park incorporates some fantastical elements that make up for the lack of strong supporting characters, at least beyond Nhedrick Jabier as Bui — a male survivor whose booming singing voice temporarily removes viewers from the restraints of the main setting. An astral plane scene strengthens Ines’ character arc (once she actively seeks help for her problems), and while the genre homages don’t automatically translate to true auteurism, the overall polish leads to less performance pressure for the young leads.
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Both Guidry and Garay could easily headline a YA franchise some day. If viewers don’t remember The Park, they should remember the lead actress’ names. With child performers, dialogue pacing can be a real issue, as some kids try too hard to play it natural; they hang on to words in order to convey a sense of surprise or confusion. In The Park, however, Guidry spouts her lines with purpose and authenticity; a final-act scream feels real and unnerving. Incidentally, Guidry’s best moments set up key scenes for Garay. It’s a strong give-and-take dynamic, which suggests that both actresses received valuable direction from Ngo, who is clearly more interested in surviving as a filmmaker than playing with the park’s shiniest and most expensive toys.
XYZ Films released The Park in March 2023.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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Categories: 2020s, 2023 Film Reviews, 2023 Horror Reviews, Action, Drama, Featured
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