The Amusement Park

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Amusement Park
"For many fans, this will be the last ever chance to see a Romero film for the first time. It won't disappoint."

In 1975, the Lutheran Society commissioned young director George Romero to make a film about the challenges facing older people in society. He had already had a few hits in the horror genre - Night Of The Living Dead, The Crazies, Season Of The Witch - but suffice to say that they didn't expect quite what they got. The resulting work languished in the archives until it was restored and completed in 2019. Now, four years after his death, it's coming to screens for the first time.

For many fans, this will be the last ever chance to see a Romero film for the first time. It won't disappoint. Whilst doing exactly what he was instructed to do, Romero created something that is devastating to watch - it's a work that doesn't so much raise awareness as threaten to plunge viewers into an abyss of despair. Throughout, there is that same sense of hopelessness about the human condition that made the aforementioned early horror films so powerful.

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As a public information film, it's bookended by commentary from Lincoln Maazel, who plays the lead: a smartly dressed man in his early seventies hoping to enjoy a day out at an amusement park. This is the only thing about it that holds with convention. The rest takes a surreal, nightmarish form, presenting a world in which nothing makes literal sense but everything can be understood. Early scenes are satirical, almost playful - our hero has to haggle an entry price based on how much money he has and then encounters signs limiting access to rides based on income, insurance and so on. One sign provides the perfect tool for explaining the concept of indirect discrimination (based on age): simply a long list of minor health conditions which older people are much more likely to have.

Exclusion, however, is only part of it. Following a crash on the dodgems, the police become involved, and we see how older people (and women) are punished for taking an active role in life. We briefly glimpse what looks like a leftover zombie when a man dies on a ride, and see the situation covered up with quiet efficiency, his widow hopeless and obliging, nobody else even noticing. Elsewhere, our hero is jostled in a sea of bodies, complained at when he accidentally collides with someone. Later, he suffers outright violence. It is the rejection and hostility attending his attempts to reach out and connect with others, however, that is most painful to watch.

Nobody watching can be in any doubt that this is a Romero film. It is full of his visual language, his observation of petty cruelties and the automatic nature of most human exchanges. the camera is often kept low, lost in the crowd. In one striking innovative scene, it follows a rollercoaster ride. What ought to be a fun experience (shot with extraordinary dynamism) is marred by the riders' uncertainty as to whether they are going u or down, adding to our hero's sense of disorientation. Later, we see him stumbling through the park, battered and bloody, looking every inch like one of Romero's zombies, and it's a reminder of how much sympathy the director held for his most desperate creations. It's the humanity of his zombies that imprinted them so firmly on the psyche, and here, looing at it from the other side, we can see one again that there is not so very much difference between us and them.

Relentlessly bleak but so poetically conceived that you'll find it hard to tar your eyes away, this is a true masterpiece. Romero may be gone but he still has a great deal to teach us.

Reviewed on: 08 Jun 2021
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An elderly gentleman goes for what he assumes will be an ordinary day at the amusement park, only to find himself in the middle of a hellish nightmare instead.

Director: George A Romero

Writer: Wally Cook

Starring: Lincoln Maazel, Harry Albacker, Phyllis Casterwiler

Year: 2019

Runtime: 52 minutes

Country: US

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