[review by JA Kerswell]
|A killer lurks in a deserted amusement park in Swedish slasher KARUSELL.
Very nearly great, KARUSELL - the new Swedish masked slasher from the producers of the box office hit FEED (2022) - just falls short of being a white-knuckle thrill ride. A group of teens are invited to a VIP Halloween event at the country’s largest amusement park but find themselves hunted by a doll-faced killer carrying an axe. Blessed with good production values and some excellent suspense set pieces, the film struggles to initially engage. However, those with perseverance will be rewarded with scares closely modelled on 80s and 90s classics - albeit few other surprises outside being the only slasher in memory that features a killer in blonde pigtails!
In a very brief prologue, Fiona (Wilma Lidén) brings her friend Petra to a Halloween costume party at a house in the woods. She has been asked to attend by Dante (Omar Rudberg), whom she has a crush on. Tragedy strikes when Petra’s body is found in the woods in the morning, but we don’t initially see how she died.
Exactly a year later, Fiona has dropped out of school and is working the night shift at the Liseberg amusement park. The park is otherwise closed to the public at night, but she has been instructed to welcome and accompany a VIP group to enjoy the rides. However, when she meets them at the gate she discovers that they comprise some of her ex-friends who were at the party the year before - including the bitchy Jenny (Amanda Lindh), who has now hitched up with Dante. Begrudgingly, Fiona begins the tour of the park and slowly starts to reconnect with her old flame. However, their fun is interrupted when the power goes out and they find themselves the target of a homicidal maniac wearing the same doll-faced mask, complete with blonde pigtails, that Petra was wearing the night she died. Amusement soon turns into a fight for survival as Fiona and the group band together to try and stay alive and find a way out of the park in one piece …
|A psycho is pigtails?
Part of the problem with KARUSELL is the way that the narrative is constructed. The filmmaker’s drip feed what happened to Petra throughout the film’s running time - but it doesn’t really amount to any real surprises as we already know that she died because of something that happened at the party and anyone who has ever seen a slasher movie will know that the guilt lies within the group now trapped in the park. Another problem is that there is pretty much zero character-building at the start of the film. The group are initially presented as unpleasant, one-dimensional cyphers who have little sympathy for Petra’s death and are seemingly happy to party it up on the anniversary of her death. It doesn’t help either that we never get to really know the character of Petra (or even see her face) and therefore it doesn’t much engender the audience’s sympathies outside of the fact that a random girl has died and whose death appears to be the catalyst for the retribution of the killer. To the film’s credit, some of the characters are fleshed out as the movie progresses and Wilma Lidén, Amanda Lindh and Swedish pop sensation Omar Rudberg make a likeable final trio. However, that initial lack of human connection in the first third somewhat hinders the audience from fully engaging in the plight of the group.
Luckily, KARUSELL does feature several great set pieces and chase scenes - as might be expected for a slasher set in a giant, sprawling amusement park. The rollercoaster is utilised to good effect. In one stand-out sequence, a character gets an axe to the chest during the ride and his fellow riders have no idea until it stops. In another, two survivors wrestle with the doll-faced killer at the highest point on the big dipper - all the while the rollercoaster car loops ever closer to them. Whilst not overtly gory, there is a fair splattering of gore - including a splashy decapitation scene inside a spinning ‘barrel of fun’.
|Swedish pop sensation Omar Rudberg tries to dodge the mad killer in KARUSELL.
Unlike the recent Swedish slasher hit FEED (2022), the makers of KARUSELL aren’t attempting anything new here (although it is from the same production company). The film clearly models itself on 90s slashers - especially I KNOW WHAT YOU DID SUMMER (1997). That, of course, is no bad thing - but the film doesn’t add any kinks to the formula and even the identity of the killer is pretty obvious from the get-go.
KARUSELL was filmed in December 2022 at Liseberg - Sweden’s largest amusement park, which is situated in Gothenburg. A slight irony is that Liseberg runs highly successful Halloween Horror Nights, although the park is shown to be shut in the film during the evening. It was released to Swedish screens ahead of Halloween 2023 to moderate success but failed to engage with audiences in the way that the more genre-bending FEED did.
Very nearly a great throwback to the halcyon days of the 1980s and post-SCREAM (1996) 1990s. There’s some solid slasher thrills to be had, but it never quite builds to the fever pitch of excitement that the best of the subgenre has to offer.
female: 3 / male: 4
1) Female seen dead
2) Male whacked on the head with an axe
3) Female has wrists cut with boxcutter
4) Male decapitated with an axe
5) Male has throat slit with a knife
6) Female killed
7) Male falls to his death
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