June 26, 2013

The Purge (2013)

"A family is held hostage for harbouring the target of a murderous syndicate during the Purge, a 12-hour period in which any and all crime is legalized."

Full of so many tropes that it even has its own page on tvtropes.org, "The Purge" is yet another completely unoriginal home invasion story from Blumhouse Productions and Platinum Dunes designed to get as much money as quickly as possible out of teenagers who haven't seen many other movies. In case you haven't noticed, this is exactly what Blumhouse Productions and Platinum Dunes do, and they've been very successful at it.

I don't want to get into a big discussion of all the sources which "The Purge" rips off, but suffice it to say that its backstory borrows heavily from Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" (1948), The Twilight Zone's "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" (1960), Star Trek's "The Return of the Archons" (1967), and dozens of movies including "The Most Dangerous Game" (1932), "Rio Bravo" (1959), "A Clockwork Orange" (1971), "Battle Royale" (2000), and "Assault on Precinct 13" (1976/2005). The latter is the most obvious since the "Assault on Precinct 13" remake also stars Ethan Hawke and its screenplay was written by none other than James DeMonaco, the writer/director of "The Purge".

Despite its Bacchanalian inspirations and socio-political aspirations, "The Purge" still isn't anything more than a clone of all the home invasions such as "Funny Games" (1997), "Panic Room" (2002), "Them" (2006), and "The Strangers" (2008). Mix everything together with a swizzle stick made out of "Desperate Housewives" and you have your movie. If you want to be really cynical (and you should be), the futuristic setting is just a means to isolate the family. It's the dead cellphone trope without using a cellphone.

The thing is, "The Purge" isn't horrible to watch. It's shot using a handheld camera for some reason, but it's no more shaky than anything by Lars Von Trier or an episode of "This Life" so I can let that pass. Of course, it has to have a little bit of webcam/surveillance camera nonsense going on it too because it's a Blumhouse Production, and they never want to let you forget how they were also responsible for "Paranormal Activity" and "Sinister", but even that is acceptable within the film's internal logic. As far as Blumhouse/Platinum Dunes products go, "The Purge" is actually the best they've made so far.

Bring back "The Sarah Connor Chronicles"! And tripods!

Although "The Purge" isn't a horror movie, it does fit into "The Twilight Zone"-esque subgenre of dystopian futures which have been done to death in recent years almost as much as zombies and slashers, and it has a few moments of extreme violence which make it fairly entertaining. Unfortunately, even as an R-rated movie, it feels PG-13 due to the very obvious lack of sex, nudity or realistic profanities. It almost goes without saying that "The Purge" has very little gore and absolutely no scares or tension. With two hot chicks in the besieged family and no threat of rape at any point, it doesn't seem to be a movie meant for adults at all.

Part of the problem is that a bigger socio-political commentary on modern America with its layers of hypocrisy/double-standards and racism isn't fully realised. Do I really need to mention how the skin colour of the Target/Hostage (played by Edwin Hodge) shouldn't be an issue but clearly is? I think not. There's also so much that "The Purge" could've said about corporate brainwashing, capitalism, creepy American patriotism, gun control laws, crime, and the general selfish, jealous and violent nature of the first-world, but it's purely superficial. Even "Robocop" (1987) addressed those issues better nearly 30 years ago. If American society didn't learn about itself from Paul Verhoeven's satire then it's unlikely to do so from a half-arsed home invasion flick, so just shove another burger in your mouth and hide behind your smart phone because "The Purge" isn't meant to be anything other than low-brow entertainment either.

Acting-wise, "The Purge" is acceptable so I have no complaints there. Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey do particularly well although their rich, white, middle-class characters aren't likeable nor are they entirely meant to be. Every character in "The Purge" is mentally damaged by the futuristic government's brainwashing so what's to like? Rhys Wakefield as the "Polite Stranger" stands out the most as a hybrid of Patrick Bateman/Alex DeLarge, but even he makes as many stupid decisions as the rest of the characters in this "idiot play".

"Do you like Phil Collins?"

One thing which annoyed me slightly was Max Burkholder's hair which he really needs to get cut. What is it with Blumhouse Productions and little boys with girls' hairstyles? Michael Hall D'Addario from "Sinister" should accompany Max to the barbers. There are times when its hard to tell if it's Max's character or the hot sister (played by 23-year-old Adelaide Kane) who is in shot, but that's a minor quibble. It's also not his fault that the pussified character he played should have been one of the first ones purged. I spent more time wondering where the design for "Timmy", the remote-controlled webcam on a tank, came from than wishing any of the characters dead since most of them are underused anyway.

The surprise twists which come from betrayals are more irksome and predictable clich├ęs for most people although, as usual, I didn't see either of them coming. I'll be honest, I actually enjoyed "The Purge" until I started to think about it afterwards, and then it left a nasty taste in my mouth because of the punches which were pulled. A night where all crimes are allowable, but the best anyone could come up with is a lame home invasion? I could write something far more disturbing in five minutes simply because I'm a very sick puppy indeed.

It's not worth going into any greater depth about "The Purge" because it's not a movie which can stand up to any kind of critical deconstruction nor is it meant to. I know some people have moaned about the number of times characters are saved at the last second, but those contrivances aren't even that noticeable during the action unless you are looking for them. There are so many plot holes, unanswered questions, lapses in logic and wasted opportunities that "The Purge" is essentially just another "popcorn flick" for the Summer which I'll probably buy on DVD as a souvenir of how low the movie industry has sunk this year.

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