The film's poster really says it all.
Carnage is the film adaptation of "Le Dieu du Carnage," a stage play by Yasmina Reza about two married couples arbitrating a shared problem: their respective sons got into a playground fight, and one of them was injured. So, they do what most rational people do — they talk about it.
You'd like to think that it all goes well, and the film actually opens on a high note: happy smiles all around as they stand around a computer writing a formal statement of what happened between their boys. We have the players: Alan (Christoph Waltz) and Nancy (Kate Winslet), the parents of the perpetrator; and the parents of the victim, Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael (John C. Reilly). Alan and Nancy have come to Penelope and Michael's apartment to initially talk about about apologizing on behalf of their son. And, to the audience's delight, they stay much longer than intended.
(I feel compelled to mention here an additional two cast members — an adorable little hamster, and a hair dryer that gets quite a bit of screen time. May they be nominated for an Oscar some day.)
When I read the film was based off a stage play, I was intrigued. Will they pull off a film that never leaves the main location? Does it feel awkward when the film find ways to keep Alan and Nancy inside Penelope and Michael's apartment? Yes and no. No in the sense that the film moves too quickly for you to second guess it; yes in the sense that when Nancy and Alan are getting up to leave, you know they aren't going to. Yes in the sense that when Nancy says she has to puke, you can believe her. Carnage is steeped in anxiety and impatience, like a horror movie when characters make fatally poor decisions and the audience is fully aware of the frights about to come. You'll have to brace yourself: things go wrong, you know they're coming, you know what's going to happen.
|"Guys, guys! Don't fight! You want some coffee? Let's get some coffee!"|
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, and it's likely a remnant of the theatrical elements still deeply ingrained in the script. Stage plays are notorious for their characters leaving and entering rooms with poorly motivated reasons — "I have to use the bathroom" being the number one culprit. Carnage, for the most part, avoids these downfalls, but there are moments that feel only necessary for the stage, and not the screen. You'll also notice when someone finishes talking, the motionless cast will instantly move about the room and freeze a second later, creating another tableau. And just wait until they bust out the scotch.
Carnage is a roller-coaster of a film, and at barely 80 minutes long, it really hurtles along. Calling the pacing "brisk" would be the understatement of this Oscar season. But in a way, this makes the film a microcosm of society, and you'll be astounded at how silly humans look when they're under intense scrutiny from their peers. In addition, the film will certainly be the anthem of all high school drama classes, and perhaps even post-secondary too; studied for its ability to showcase every possible combination of relationship dynamic in just over an hour. Dynamics like A+B vs C+D; A+B+C vs D; A+B vs C vs D; etcetera. As the poster indicates, the emotional range of everyone in Carnage is on full display — including, in some cases, what they had for lunch. (Apple and pair cobbler, by the way.)
Everyone in the film is hilarious, though perhaps best is Jodie Foster who truly breaks down. It's definitely possible to see her getting a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. I say "Supporting" because no one in the film has a majority in terms of screen time. It's balanced, witty fun had by all four thespians, and the ending is as satisfying as it is dark. And while some lines may feel forced and the blocking feels odd (Penelope and Michael live in what feels like the hall of mirrors), the script charges forward without ever stopping. I guess, however, that fits with the titular theme.