Punishment Park-Movie Review

Punishment Park Film Review

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Punishment Park

Dir. Peter Watkins
UK/USA, 1970
Beta SP 88 min.

Peter Watkins is one of the pioneers of what is now referred to as the 'mockumentary', and with masterpieces such as Privilege, The War Game and the five-hour epic La Commune distinguishing his resume it's surprising that his work has found such a limited audience in North America. The most obvious reason for this is fear of Watkins' undiluted commentary on social injustice and the (often negative) power of the media to influence and shape the fertile minds of the masses.

Punishment Park remains one of his most accomplished works. Set in a fictional American prison camp for hippie radicals and subversives circa 1970, we are led through a vicious, maddening tribunal in the middle of the desert, which upon conclusion sees its unwilling participants condemned to 3 days in 'Punishment Park'.

The punitive curriculum requires them to wander from one end of the compound to the other in scorching heat with no food or water for several days until they reach the iconic American flag at the other end (a perverse means of brainwashing so that the prisoners will come to view the flag with reverence).

What they don't know is that as they struggle through the bleak terrain bickering amongst themselves, the guards (one of whom would later play one of Swan's henchmen from Phantom of the Paradise) have been set upon them with orders to kill. While not a 'horror' film in the strictest sense, this is one of the most truly harrowing of CineMuerte's offerings this year.

Kier-La Janisse