Ashley Bell
Credit: Sarah Balch

When Ashley Bell was cast to play the role of a hostage in the new thriller Carnage Park, she was well aware of what she was getting herself into. “You don’t do a film called Carnage Park without knowing you’re going to be put through the ringer,” the star told InStyle when she stopped by our New York City offices this week. “But that’s also why I love it, because you’re pushed to go to places you wouldn’t normally go in your imagination.”

The 1970s-set film, which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, follows the story of two criminals who take a woman hostage during a bank robbery. The kidnappers head to the desert with their captive in tow, only to suddenly find themselves the target of a deadly sniper. While the plot of the movie is undeniably chilling, don’t expect to see superfluous gore. “There isn’t just horror for the sake of horror,” said Bell. “It’s a character-driven story.”

And the journey of her kidnapped character, Vivian, is particularly fascinating. “When I first read the script, I expected her to just fall apart,” said Bell. “But then she threw a punch, and I was hooked. You’re not watching this girl get terrified; you’re watching how this girl is going to fathom taking another step forward through all that fear.” Through it all, Vivian remains strong. “She’s not a victim—she’s a fighter,” said Bell. “If I were ever in a situation like that, I wish I’d have her eggs.”

When Vivian is first introduced at the start of the film, nothing seems too out of the ordinary. “She’s just a girl that works on a dirt farm in California,” said Bell. “And she’s going to the bank to fight for her family’s farm.” But when she gets to the bank, terror soon sets in—and Vivian doesn’t make it home. The horrific turn of events results in the character sporting just one outfit for the film’s entirety, and the cast and crew made sure to get the look just right. “We wanted her to wear a dress that was a little outdated, because she’s totally this tomboy,” said Bell. “There’s this sort of authenticity to it that feels like she could’ve made this dress at home.” The ‘70s fashion adds to the “total throwback” vibe of the film—and some of the accessories on set were ripped right from the decade. “I wore jewelry from my mom’s personal 1970s collection,” said Bell, adding that the wardrobe effort was “very collaborative.”

Ashley Bell - Carnage Park
Credit: Everett Collection

While shooting in the California desert, the cast also encountered a few unsolicited collaborators. “We were filming in this big and dark cave one day, and when I got to my mark, it suddenly moved,” said Bell. “It turned out to be a rattlesnake!” The reptilian set-crasher didn’t make the final casting cut, but Bell later found herself looking to insert a little critter into one of her scenes. “After spending several hours drifting through the desert, I came up with the idea that we should find a pill bug to be my friend in this great expanse of desert,” said Bell. “I told our director, Mickey Keating—who was also experiencing a similar sunstroke—and he thought it was a great idea.”

Just like that, Bell began her quest for the perfect little co-star. “The next morning, I went digging through my garden,” she said. “I brought the pill bug to set, and there’s a scene in the film where it’s crawling on my finger and the camera does a huge 360-degree motion around me. It ended up being quite a fun moment with a little bit of compassion in the middle of this desert scape.”

Carnage Park is in theaters and on VOD today, July 1.