Now that a week has passed with me not writing anything at all, I think it is high time I got back in stride. It turns out that computers don’t like me at all lately and my laptop needed to be fixed again (or should I say, should have been fixed in the first place), so I spent the last two weeks like an animal – without the internet and everything. Well, not exactly, because I still have my tablet, but trying to blog on a touchscreen is a recipe for a violent outburst of rage. Now that my laptop had most of its insides removed and replaced and I got it up and running again, I can go back to what I like doing. I can’t promise high frequency output yet, because I’m in the middle of moving house, but I’ll do what I can.
It would also appear that my unfortunate impediment in blogging capability coincided with a temporary draught in decent films hitting the screens. Correction: ‘decent’ might be a bit too generous of a term; it’s summer after all and good films remain in hiding whilst superheroes and the like roam the screens. It got to a point that last weekend there was nothing playing in the cinemas that I actually wanted to watch. Well, had I had a bit more time during the week, I would have caught up with ”Mud” playing in QFT (my local art-house cinema), but when I actually managed to free up some time, it was already gone. Oh well… There’s always Blu Ray… Still I ended up cinema-starved for nearly two weeks, because I’m not going to see “The Hangover Part 3” or “Fast and Furious 6”. I only liked the first “Hangover” and I could barely stand the first two “Fast and Furious” instalments so I decided to wait it out.
Among the films that popped up this weekend I noticed “The Purge” and I recalled reading a little bit about it and being rather surprised the marketing campaign for it was virtually inexistent. Mainly because I thought I could use a break from Sci-Fi and superhero flicks, I figured – what the hell.
I have always had a special place in my heart for horror films. Well, I had three – for horror, Sci-Fi and action films, because this particular trio of genres played a crucial role in moulding me into what I am today. And good horrors are hard to come by lately only with “Evil Dead” living up to my standard, “Mama” being sort of OK and “Dark Skies” disappointing me quite a lot. Therefore, I was quite happy to see “The Purge”.
Right, so the film can be described in two ways: in a quick way, or with more waffle, and I’ll start with the latter. “The Purge” is an excerpt from a dystopian universe where the US has been reborn as a nation where there’s little to no crime, everyone is happy, the streets are made of chocolate, unicorns run freely in the wild and little angels bring flowers to children every morning. Well, maybe that’s a bit too far-fetched, but the point is that America is the happiest place on Earth, because once every year for 12 hours the big brother turns a blind eye on everything. That’s right – every year on the night of the 21st of March the law is not in place and any criminal activity, up to and including murder, is perfectly legal and it constitutes the annual purge. This way apparently the society cleanses itself by releasing the rage and hatred bottled up inside by killing strangers, settling debts or just feeding their carnivorous lusts. And little do you know – it works. Those who don’t want to participate in the purge and can afford sophisticated provisions spend the night inside their heavily fortified houses, while the others (the poor) do what they can to stay alive, when the willing to purge patrol the streets with guns and machetes, or what have you. And here we are – in a house of James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) – a successful businessman who made a fortune manufacturing and selling home security systems for the annual purges as James, his wife (Lena Headey) and children become targets of a bunch of masked psychotic strangers led by a Joker lookalike (Rhys Wakefield) after they make a terrible mistake of harbouring a homeless person (Edwin Hodge), who was clearly trying to flee the murderous crowd.
And that’s the long synopsis. The shorter one reads as follows: it’s a home invasion flick about a family that needs to face masked men hell-bent on hacking them to bits with axes and machetes. And it all takes place in a setting where they can’t just call the police.
Now, home invasion films should in theory work regardless of the setting, because of all the horrors one would be able to imagine, a scenario where a family is targeted by psychos (nothing supernatural, just regular deviants) is a possibility for all of us. And that’s what makes it so scary. Normally, for a film like that to make sense (“When a stranger calls”, “Strangers”) the plot requires some sort of a device to make you believe these people are stranded and have to fend for themselves, i.e. the phone lines are off due to a storm, the house is really secluded or something to that effect. “The Purge” goes a step further to invent an entire universe to serve that purpose and I wasn’t quite convinced it was necessary. Surely, we could try and draw parallels to our own world and make it look like this film is trying to comment on the divide between the rich and the poor, but it’s all superficial. At the end of the day, “The purge” is just a thriller and once it’s trying to be something more than that, it looks fake.
I have no problems with the execution of the film, because the acting and the technical side of things are rather OK (although I would point out that waddling around the house in the dark with a flash-light doesn’t help you see better, but helps the killer see you better). Where the film suffers the most is its premise. It almost looks like the entire idea for “The purge” originated in a pub over a couple of pints, as though a couple of guys were pondering the idea of being able to kill someone without any consequences. The idea needed some more meat, so they layered it onto a world (in near future of course, but I think it could have just as well been skipped) where the government sanctions deviant behaviour once a year.’ In for a penny in for a pound’ and so we are now presented with a fully working world with companies that make money off of the purge, with the socio-economic repercussions of said purge that suggest that letting the country eliminate the poor and defenceless, the homeless, the jobless, all contribute to the society. Surely, if you eliminate the jobless, you will artificially deflate the unemployment rate, so the film makers accounted for all that with the commentaries from ‘scientists’ we can see here and there trying to sprinkle some long words on the subject. And at the end, we are presented with a huge layered cake with chocolate fountains, raisins, nuts, strawberries and everything, when all we wanted was a cupcake.
“The purge” really looks like a lot of work to achieve so little, because the film makers (with James DeMonaco helming the project; not very experienced as a director) made up a world so bullet-proof that they needed the characters to go out of their ways and do dumb things to bring the danger upon themselves. And that pretty much sums it all up – “The Purge” is one gargantuan case of overkill. When you make up a whole world to place a home invasion story in it – you’re doing it wrong and you clearly have some unresolved issues. I don’t know, maybe DeMonaco really wanted to make fantasy films that actually require that level of thought in designing a universe, but here it’s simply secondary to everything else. Moreover, it looks as if the film makers were more concerned with the external setting for the story and they forgot to get the villain right, or make the pacing consistent (with major twists scattered thoughtlessly around the picture), and most of all they really required a string of terribly stupid events to get the action rolling.
Fortunately enough, “The purge” may have lasted for 12 hours, but only 85 minutes in real time, so it was over before I could get seriously fed up with it. Don’t get me wrong – I kind of enjoyed it – but if you take the whole fancy dressing away – it was a sloppy home invasion flick with ambitions to be something more.