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American Carnage

By Alex Saveliev | July 12, 2022

A violent mishmash of genres, Diego Hallivis’s American Carnage has a lot on its mind. Despite not quite gelling, it remains watchable, mainly for the absurdity of its ambitions. The filmmaker – who co-wrote the feature with his brother Julio – deserves praise for sticking to his guns and bringing something novel to the table, deeply flawed as it may be.

The cocky young JP (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) sees himself as a hustler. “I’m gonna buy my mom a big-a*s house before you even graduate,” he tells his sister Lily (Yumarie Morales), who just got accepted into an Ivy League college. In a jarring turn of events, a task force rushes in and detains everyone, per a newly-issued executive order by governor Harper Finn (Brett Cullen) to “carry out arrests of illegal immigrants,” with the ultimate goal of deporting them all by election day.

Determined to keep the viewer on their toes, American Carnage takes another narrative swerve: the DA offers to drop all charges against JP and his mother if JP agrees to volunteer at an elderly home founded and run by the Machiavellian Eddie (Eric Dane). “You are doing you and your country a tremendous service,” the man says, not very convincingly. The home turns out to be more of a ward, with prisoners being electrocuted if they step out of line. The elderly – who frequently bite – are subdued via violent injections into their necks.

Older men spider-walk, crazy lab experiments leave JP looking like the Bride of Frankenstein…”

Among the fellow detainees are the rebellious political activist Camilla (Jenna Ortega), the paranoid Chris (Jorge Diaz), the wise-cracking Big Mac (Allen Maldonado) (who asks, “Am I here because I’m Latino or Black, or both?”), and Micah (Bella Ortiz), JP’s potential crush.

At about the 40-minute mark, the Hallivis brothers add a heavy dose of horror to the already-potent mix. Older men spider-walk, crazy lab experiments leave JP looking like the Bride of Frankenstein, and there’s an obvious allusion to the cult classic Soylent Green. “There’s some strange s**t going on around here,” Camilla comments, marking the biggest understatement in an otherwise overstated feature. Needless to say, it all results in the titular gory carnage – one that involves a literally jaw-dropping (ripping?) highlight.

The term “less is more” certainly doesn’t apply to American Carnage. It is a horror tale, a political satire, and a coming-of-age story, with the plot tearing at the seams, never quite cohering. There aren’t many scares to be had, and they take a long time to come. As a satire, it’s creaky at best, stating obvious points about the dire current state of immigration loudly.

The charismatic Jorge Lendeborg Jr., however, makes the human aspect of it work, radiating charm and establishing an easy rapport with the rest of the cast. Another thing that almost saves the film is how deeply embedded it is in Latin culture, the palpable love for it, how it pays subtle tribute to it, accentuating its history and beauty and importance. American Carnage has its eye on the right target; it just misses the bull’s eye.

American Carnage (2022)

Directed: Diego Hallivis

Written: Diego Hallivis, Julio Hallivis

Starring: Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Jenna Ortega, Allen Maldonado, Jorge Diaz, Eric Dane, etc.

Movie score: 5/10

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"…the charismatic Jorge Lendeborg Jr....makes the human aspect of it work..."

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