Release: Friday, June 7, 2013 (limited)
This flick was a complete waste of a free movie pass.
That may seem like an unnecessary statement, since at least it was a free showing and I really had nothing to lose. . but I DID have something to lose: any remaining hope for reinventing the horror genre.
I’m tired of the slasher-thriller/torture-porn that tries to claim it’s a horror movie. A bunch of bloody, self-mutilating scenes of torture does not a ‘horror’ film make; it may be horrifying to watch, but there’s nothing truly scary about any of the Saw/Hostel franchises or any of the various takes of Cabin in the Woods. I suppose these all are entertainingly vicious in their own right, and that’s quite alright. I actually really appreciated what was trying to be done in Saw, and Eli Roth had a pretty cool idea going into Hostel. I consider horror to possess the scariest scenes based on outright psychological discomfort, perhaps going so far as to suggest psychological torture, not the physical manifestation of coming to desperate extremes. (I guess you can say that Saw and Hostel did have these psychological elements in their stories, but they clearly favored gore over a story that is free, or at least mostly free from the genre’s cliches.)
But when we talk about a film like The Purge, it’s a film clearly lacking in both elements and so much so that the scenes of nastiness and brutality wind up becoming comical — unintentionally so. I laughed harder in this film than I have in many comedies lately.
James DeMonaco’s latest is meant to subvert — and get a load of this — the very birth of our nation (as it were). Our “original” Founding Fathers (because, apparently we get a few new ones) were ultimately the ones who purgers might blame for how the nation had come to such a corrupt, impoverished state of decay. Though it’s not very clear when this conversion began, the nation has since been reborn, with a kind of sadistic martial law that essentially confines America’s temptation to commit crime — including murder — to one night a year. The effect has been a dramatically reduced crime rate (yes, because even the craziest of the crazies out there completely disregard their very own nature to destroy things on the other 364 days of the year) and poverty has essentially been wiped out. Unemployment is at 1%.
It should come as no surprise that when the movie opens, we should expect the events of this night to be different from all the others, otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a movie. This is the case either way, but at least there is some semblance of a premise here. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) and his family live in an upscale, gated community. James has successfully sold more security systems than anyone else (in the area, anyway) and is damn proud of the fact. And why shouldn’t he? Indeed, he is the one responsible for converting his lovely mansion into something of a fortress compound that looks more like the thing where we found and killed Osama bin Laden in years ago.
During The Purge of 2022, things all go to hell for the Sandins, when James’ son (Max Burkholder) sees a stranger outside their yard desperate to find shelter, and makes the mistake of allowing him inside their home. And yes, you guessed it: problems immediately arise from within. Unsure of the identity or motives of this unidentified black male (you’ve gotta love how the only people represented as ‘those in poverty’ in this film are black), James and his family are now forced into protecting themselves inside their very home.
Indeed, the setting of The Purge is nothing if not frustratingly limited. In one instance, Mary (Lena Headey) is trying to get their daughter to join them all in the same room but fails to do so by not grabbing her by the wrist and forcing her in that direction. The two were literally standing next to one another in the hallway. Later, Mary laments: “I tried to get Zoey to come but I just couldn’t…” First of all, how big is this house, and why are you so useless at trying to save those who you love the most?
It’s not the family’s fault, though, that their situation ends up becoming one joke after another. The man they’ve inadvertently been sheltering for presumably an hour or so into their lockdown is a target of a funny-looking gang of masked psychos who demand (in an awkwardly polite fashion) that they release this man to them at once, or they’ll be forced to destroy the house and the family. The man is poor, thus he is apparently to be butchered in the front yard because it’s these people’s right to do so. “Don’t deny us our right to Purge, our right granted by our new Founding Fathers,” is one of the mantras espoused by the ringleader.
What ensues is the utterly predictable, getting more predictable and more asinine by the minute. The Purge boils down to a dangerous game of hide-and-seek in pitch-black, after the Sandins fail to turn the home invader over in time. The new gang of criminals power down the house and enter by any means necessary — and this part is scary, for sure. I challenge anyone to not think of home invasion as at least mildly perturbing. All this is, though, is a series of jump-scares as the result of loud noises and conveniently hidden dangers around each and every corner.
The ending of the film is what completely renders this a comedy, rather than even a slightly effective horror-thriller. I won’t reveal anything, and there’s no “twist” as such, but The Purge‘s ethos swells to unbearable levels that actually gave my entire theater a fit of the giggles. (Here I was sitting by myself thinking I was being too hard on the movie for laughing earlier on.) It goes beyond ridiculous as the characters become completely distorted, rendered as monsters rather than human beings who are attempting to cleanse themselves of their anger and wanting to do bad things.
I’m not saying the genesis of this film is not original. In fact, that’s mostly why I went to see it. I saw a trailer that gave the impression of a horror film with potential to take a road less traveled: what would our nation be like for real if we had one night a year where all crime is legal? Who would fall prey that night? Who would actually go out and commit crimes? What stops one rich white man from killing another wealthy suburbanite? Are we all in some way harboring an ability to do evil when provoked at the perfect moment — i.e. when no cop, ambulance or other type of emergency service can do anything about it?
After watching, I have to say with confidence that the answer to that last one is ‘No, we are not.’ Unlike some, I was not bothered by the film’s backdrop of crime being legal for a night. I thought it was quite interesting actually. If the film had been better and not become a simple set piece for its entire duration, there might be compelling reasons to explore the deepest, darkest corners of the human heart. The Purge does little other than suggesting the idea, then abandoning it with its insanely poor execution and run-of-the-mill acting.
Recommendation: I do not.
Running Time: 85 mins.
Quoted: “Just remember all the good The Purge does . . . ”
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