Easily my most anticipated film of Fantasia Fest 2020, “Class Action Park” is not just a visit to nostalgia, but an exploration of a criminal who was able to do whatever he pleased at the cost of children and families looking for a good time. Once upon a time there was a place called “Action Park,” a large water and adventure park set in the middle of New Jersey. While it was the place of memories for many kids, it was also a hellscape filled with death, corruption, negligence, and a founder who would stop at literally nothing to protect his own interests.
The definitive story of Action Park has long needed to be told, and with Seth Porges & Chris Charles Scott III’s “Class Action Park,” we finally get the whole ugly truth, from those who kept it going even though they knew its dangers to staff members, who enjoyed torturing attendees, and to the teens that made it a summer ritual and rite of passage. It also digs into the dark side of Action Park, the horrific injuries and deaths that were very real and, sadly, not uncommon.
I was one of the many that made it to Action Park during a summer and thankfully all me, my brother, and my father left with was a mediocre experience. Over the years and since its closure in 1996, I never knew how much of a danger zone Action Park was since it opened to the public. While “Class Action Park” dives in to the nostalgic factor of the era in which the park inspired thrill seekers and risk takers primarily, it’s also a pretty stark and tragic tale of all out corruption and tales of dismemberment, mutilations and gory drownings. Directors Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott III track everything from the beginning of the park, to its rise in fame, to its inevitable downfall, all overseen by businessman and ruthless mogul Andy Mulvihil.
Mulvihil is centered on quite a lot, as we’re given glimpses in to his practices, which often involved cutting corners in his park, and victimizing those that suffered from the horrendous hazards in his park until they inevitably admitted defeat. Those familiar with Action Park as a staple of the eighties and nineties (or who visited it at any point) might just be stunned to see just how dangerous Action Park was. While many of the nostalgia Action Park fans interviewed in the movie take pride in surviving a day in the water park, the pair of directors explore in great detail the numerous accidents and carnage that ensued. This often involved amputations, drownings, electrocutions, poisonous snakes, and an ill equipped first aide station.
If anything, the overall tone of “Class Action Park” is confusing, as it celebrates the inherent nostalgia of the park in the first half, and then becomes so much starker and sadder as it draws to a close. Either way, “Class Action Park” is a dark, engrossing, often compelling look at one of the more celebrated nostalgic hallmarks of the eighties and nineties, and its twisted, violent legacy.
The Fantasia International Film Festival runs every year, and this year runs virtually from August 20th until September 2nd.