Published Aug 31, 2020Forget the Maysles Brothers and their played-out cinéma vérité. Thanks to Tiger King and all of those Fyre Fest flicks, the new unstoppable trend in documentary filmmaking is a lot more Reddit: pointing cameras and talking-head interviews towards schadenfreude-inducing moments in history and saying, essentially, "Bro… that's fucked up."
Like it or not, these crass explorations of human suffering can be fun, and Class Action Park is no different. The doc, which chronicles a one-of-a-kind New Jersey amusement park that is the stuff of legend, was spun off of a viral video from co-director Seth Porges. (The park's legendary dangerousness was also somewhat captured in Johnny Knoxville's instantly forgotten misstep Action Point in 2018.)
Essentially, the real-life Action Park's modus operandi asked and answered the question "What if Disneyland was libertarian?" There were very few rules enforced at the park, which was dreamt up by an eccentric millionaire with possible mob ties and a financier who was ousted from Wall Street for alleged fraud.
Class Action Park tries to weave these details into the film, but it's still mostly about just how sketchy the rides really were. And they were an absolute disaster, including a loop-de-loop slide with a full upside down section that cut up nearly every child that went down it and a speed boat lagoon with boats that liked to tip over into water that was riddled with snakes. That's just scratching the surface, and a park worker estimates that the amusement park had around 50 injuries a day.
The injuries are animated (with some insultingly cheap-looking iPad drawings that should have certainly been replaced when HBO Max ponied up money for the production) and endlessly riffed on by a series of panelists, most notably the New Jersey comedian Chris Gethard. He goofs on every ride and injury, acting as a de facto audience member who points at the fucked up situation and says how fucked up it is.
That's all fine and well, but the problem with "that's fucked up" documentaries is that inevitably we're forced to bring some empathy into the situation, and the doc nearly breaks its own neck when swapping to an interview with the mother of a boy who died on the park's unbelievably sketchy cement luge track after hitting his head on some rocks in 1980. This jarring switch in tone, which comes three-quarters of the way into the film, is nearly impossible to recover from, and almost makes you feel guilty for laughing at all of the hijinks that lead up to it.
Still, perhaps your empathy censors have been numbed by a lifetime online, and you'll still be able to enjoy Class Action Park for all of its fucked-up hijinks. To its credit, the rides really were unbelievably sketchy and there are plenty of laughs outside of the sobering reality of death.
Fantasia International Film Festival is taking place online from August 20 to September 2. (HBO Max)