Central Park, a horror film released in 2017 in America but out now in the UK via Jinga Films, completely knows the rules of the slasher genre. It knows to follow a group of varied teen protagonists, to link the killer to them somehow, and to pick them off one-by-one. But equally, the film prevents its own success by carving out the definition a run-of-the-mill slasher, with characters you’ll forget the instant they’re bumped off, and an antagonist that truly never comes to fruition.
Set, as you might expect, in New York City, Central Park follows five teens, headed by H (Justiin A. Davis), whose father was recently charged with stealing money from business associates. A boozy night in the eponymous park turns to a quest for survival as an unknown butcher starts taking them out – and wearing a face-mask adorned with H’s father’s face, it should become a caper of self-discovering and bloodthirsty thrills.
The big problem is, well, it doesn’t become that. The film’s first half an hour flits between two antagonists: a mysterious bearded man in the woods, and the knife-wielding killer they encounter later. Even from there, it never quite knows what direction it wants to go down, and having two antagonists, both so underdeveloped, leaves the film with a staggering lack of focus. Writer-director Justin Reinsilber paces the film way off, grinding through the classic slasher gears at a snail’s pace, with little-to-no horror thrills until halfway through. The biggest issue, though, is the characters – or lack thereof, as despite being present on-screen, there’s just nothing engaging about them. The first fifteen minutes do a decent job of making some of them seem interesting: there’s the rebellious Mikey (Deema Aitken), who looks up to their teacher like a father figure, but other than him and H, none of them have any sort of resonance. The same can be said for a duo of cops who languish two steps behind our protagonists at all times – at first, their story seems completely detached from that of our teen heroes, but even as it emerges what role they’re going to play, you simply won’t care.
The bare minimum that a film of this type needs to do is make audiences want to see violence unfold on-screen, but Central Park doesn’t manage that. In a genre at risk of dying out, new entries need to expand on what we’ve seen before—Cabin in the Woods does this brilliantly—but Central Park maintains the screaming teens and predictable structure that you’ve come to expect. Rather than offensively bad, it’s just quite forgettable – and even some impressive production values and cinematography won’t keep it in your mind for much longer after you stop watching. A slasher without a hook, and without an engaging villain, will always struggle to be much of a slasher at all – and considering we never even find out the identity of the killer, it really doesn’t bode well for Central Park. Some of the kills are visually gratifying, and horror buffs might take something from the killer’s tenuous link to the protagonist, but it misses the mark in keeping the slasher genre afloat.
Central Park is available to buy on DVD from Asda, Amazon, HMV and to stream from Sky Store, Amazon Prime, iTunes and Google Play.