Shal Ngo’s The Park is a thematically interesting take on the end of the world that never quite reaches its full potential.
The apocalypse has never been so mainstream. With the genre’s recent explosion in popularity over the last few years, it’s to be expected that all kinds of filmmakers would want to offer up their own interpretations of what they imagine the end of the world to look like. With The Park, director Shal Ngo shows us his ideas, namely a Lord of the Flies-esque future in which only children remain, with all the adults having been killed off by a mysterious virus. Ngo uses this bleak, lonely setting to tell an often beautiful story of young friendship, but it unfortunately can’t quite seem to escape some of the traps established by its own premise.
The Park is set in a dystopian future, where a mysterious disease has killed off every person who’s ever gone through puberty. As a result, only prepubescent children are left to roam the Earth. Society has collapsed, with the children forming various tribes and groups in order to hunt and survive together. Our two main characters, Ines (Chloe Guidry) and Bui (Nhedrick Jabier), are friends who have formed a partnership, hiding behind masks as they search for a rumoured “kid genius” who has apparently created a vaccine that can save everyone. As they travel, they meet Kuan (Carmina Garay), and a story of friendship, power and betrayal begins to unfold.
Thematically, I think The Park is incredibly interesting and relevant to the world of today. In recent times, there’s been lots of talk about the idea that adults are destroying the planet, dooming the children of the world to have to spend their lives cleaning up after their predecessors. Whether it’s through climate change, war or simply just stupidity, there seems to be a growing fear in young people everywhere that they’re going to be the ones entrusted with “saving the world”, rescuing it from the many crises it seems to be in. It’s this idea that Ngo taps into with this film. The virus that kills everyone off at the beginning is theorised to be a man made biological weapon, a literal representation of the action of adults blowing up in their face and leaving the children to clean everything up afterwards.
Also, The Park serves as a great story about the inevitably of growing up, and the fears that come with that. Ngo portrays puberty as the literal end of these children’s lives, and in some ways, that’s what it is in the real world as well. As a society, we spend so much time telling our children that they need to grow up and be ready for the “real world”, and that puberty is that point in their lives where they stop just being children, and need to start thinking of themselves as something more.
Whilst I can’t say I remember too much of my thoughts as a child, I do remember being terrified of puberty. All these changes I didn’t understand and all these new responsibilities I would suddenly be burdened with. No longer could I just pretend to be an anime character in the playground, I would have to actually be a teenager and think about exams, love and other scary things. This is brilliantly portrayed in this film, as puberty is transformed is the scariest thing of all, death. Rather than the end of the world being represented through zombies or meteors, The Park instead argues that for a child, puberty is their apocalypse. Thinking about it, I’d have to agree. Puberty is a lot scarier than zombies.
Unfortunately, as interesting as these concepts are on paper, I don’t think The Park manages to execute them particularly well. A large part of this is unfortunately just as a result of one of the traps presented in its premise, and that is the child acting. As good as some of these children are, they never quite manage to be the stars this story needs. The characters are intended to be these powerful, authoritative figures in this world, and none of the children here quite have the necessary screen presence in order to pull it off, so it results in a lot of the exchanges feeling somewhat flat. With that being said, I thought there was some really good stuff here acting-wise. Guidry in particular is a highlight, and her chemistry with Garay makes for some of the film’s most touching and emotional scenes.
This is Ngo’s feature length directorial debut, and he makes some bold choices early on which help get the film off to a confident start. The premise of the story is portrayed through an opening montage consisting of footage such as news clips, interviews with doctors and incredibly dramatic deaths, cut together with a black and white educational video about puberty. I like the idea here a lot, and it’s very effective at getting you up to speed with the world, but it also all feels a bit silly, and so as the rest of the film is an incredibly serious, apocalyptic drama, it feels completely out of place tonally. In isolation, I really like the opening, but it feels like it’s for a totally different movie.
Aside from that, Ngo’s direction is consistently good throughout. There’s some fun use of colours, particularly intense reds and bold blues, and he gets some good emotional performances from his actors. The setting of an amusement park provides plenty of eye candy and helps make every scene visually interesting.
I do think the film is far too brief, though. It clocks in at an hour and 20 minutes, and whilst it’s always nice to have a film that never overstays its welcome, I feel like we never get to properly learn about the world Ngo is trying to create here because it’s always rushing to the next story beat. Some more time spent learning about the different new cultures and societies that have arisen wouldn’t have gone amiss, as in its current state, the premise doesn’t feel fully explored, which is a shame as it’s such an exciting and interesting idea.
Overall, I think there’s a lot to like about The Park. It’s thematically interesting with some beautiful visuals, but it never quite hits the heights that I feel like it could have. More than anything, it feels like Ngo needed to have more confidence in his ideas and give us more of a look into the world he’s built, rather than just focus on a tiny part of it. As it is, it never feels anywhere near as exciting and engaging as it could have, and that’s a shame.
The Park will be released on VOD on March 2, 2023.