Tuesday, May 30, 2017

DWF ’17: Central Park

Seriously, why couldn’t these prep school kids have just gone to a coke-fueled dance club. It’s not like they don’t have money. Then again, a few of them are scholarship students. That makes it even more unfair when a maniac with a grudge against a Madoff-like Ponzi-schemer hunts his sons’ friends through that big park over there in Justin Reinsilber’s Central Park, which screens during this year’s Dances with Films.

These are strange days for Harold Smith. His father Charles Lincoln Smith Jr. is in jail for the biggest investment con game of the millennium and a gaggle of reporters are permanently parked outside his fashionable Upper Eastside townhouse. The media frenzy is particularly intense, because Smith’s biggest victim was the NAACP. At least his friends are standing by him—while they’re still alive.

Really, for no compelling reason, they are going to drink and get stoned in the park. Look, it’s just a really bad idea to go in their late at night. Mikey the scholarship student will start to have second thoughts when the weed brings out his paranoia. Unfortunately, he will call their cool teacher, Daniel Shaw, for help, even before they know they are being stalked. That means the faithful husband and father of a newborn will get dragged into their madness. It also means his wife Melissa will call in a favor with her ambiguous NYPD detective “friend,” when he goes off the grid.

Central Park is mostly standard issue stuff, but Reinsilber cleverly incorporates some of the Park’s lore, including “Barry,” the “Central Park Bigfoot.” The details he sketches out on Smith’s father and his crimes are also sound highly plausible, in a way that is very much analogous to the Madoff case.
Unfortunately, the teen characters are mostly rather boring. In contrast, the most intriguing figures in the film are Melissa Shaw and Max, the detective who lost his surname. The fact that their relationship and the circumstances that gave rise to it are never precisely spelled out, gives a bit of an edge to their scenes together. Marina Squerciati and Charles Borland portray them with mature, grounded credibility. Michael Lombardi is also quite strong as the diverted Daniel Shaw. The kids? Eh, whatever.

Central Park actually looks like Central Park, not Stanley Park in Vancouver. Reinsilber makes it feel rather creepy and not the least bit inviting. It’s not spectacular, but there are a heck of a lot worse films out there. Arguably, as a first film, Central Park shows some signs of promise. We’re definitely willing to check out his next film, for what that’s worth. Basically recommended for horror fans in the mood for some competent slasher business, Central Park screens this Saturday (6/3), as part of this year’s Dances with Films, in Hollywood, USA.