Monday, June 27, 2016

The Purge (2013) - A Review

Survive the night.

We are 5 days away from The Purge: Election Year which, gauging from the trailers, looks pretty damn good. Over the past few days, I finally sat down and watched not only The Purge, but The Purge: Anarchy as well; I figured that there’s no better time than now to check them out and review them before we descend into madness yet again next Friday.

I’m not sure why I waited so long to watch these, it’s not like I was actively avoiding them. At the same time, most of the things I had heard about the films were pretty mixed. I didn’t hear any terrible things, but at the same time, I never exactly heard great things either. What I did hear a lot of people say was that the second film was better, in that it managed to capture what the first film failed to: Purge Night in the city and on the streets. The first film takes place entirely in one unfortunate family’s home in the wealthy suburbs of Los Angeles. It’s a home invasion flick, and for those of you who have read my piece on home invasion horror, you will know that I just so happen to love the subgenre. And big surprise: I liked The Purge a lot more than I thought I would.

Director(s): James DeMonaco
Writer(s): James Demonaco
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder
Released: July 7th, 2013
Running Time: 85 min.

In an America wracked by crime and overcrowded prisons, the government has sanctioned an annual 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity-including murder-becomes legal. The police can't be called. Hospitals suspend help. It's one night when the citizenry regulates itself without thought of punishment. On this night plagued by violence and an epidemic of crime, one family wrestles with the decision of who they will become when a stranger comes knocking. When an intruder breaks into James Sandin's (Ethan Hawke) gated community during the yearly lockdown, he begins a sequence of events that threatens to tear a family apart. Now, it is up to James, his wife, Mary (Lena Headey), and their kids to make it through the night without turning into the monsters from whom they hide.”
Written by Universal Pictures

What a fucking genius idea for a movie. In the beginning of the film we are introduced to this not-too-distant future society; unemployment has dropped to 1%, crime and povery are way down. On the surface life is pretty damn great, and it’s all thanks to the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) who were voted into office following a massive economic collapse. The NFFA solved the plethora of issues they were elected into by instating the annual Purge Night, which is proposed as a way to “cleanse your soul” of hatred, jealousy, anger, etc. Now, what the good boys of the NFFA haven’t said, is that it’s really just a cover for artificial population control. How do you reduce unemployment, poverty and violence? Have all the poor, jobless angry sumbitches go out and kill each other without any fear of punishment.

The film doesn’t focus on this aspect so much though, as it focuses on the events inside of the Sandin household. James Sandin is a successful salesman for a company that specializes in the design of whole home security systems to defend against the perils of Purge Night. We’re talking metal shutters, blast doors, safe rooms, the whole nine. He lives with his family in a gated community in a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles, far from the dangers of Purge Night, surrounded by a cluster of “Stepford Wives” status housewives who go about their days gossiping and bitching about how much more money James makes than their rich-people-poor husbands. It doesn’t take long before trouble comes knocking (literally) and when the Sandin’s son answers the call all hell breaks loose in their picture perfect mansion.

When this flick first dropped, I remember there being a lot of complaints that the film didn’t focus enough on the wide spread effects of Purge Night. The entire night was spent in one house, focusing entirely on the ordeal of one family. “Where’s all the mayhem!? The riots, the streets running red with blood!?” A lot of people felt that it was a waste of the premise. Honestly, I felt the same way going into the film but I’m actually really glad that this is the direction that DeMonaco took the film in. In my opinion he did a great job of showing us just enough of what goes on during a typical Purge Night to make us think “Nope, fuck that, I want nothing to do with that”. It’s an eerie thing to think about, especially to watch, that normal people in essence revert back to these animalistic and barbaric beasts, hellbent on satiating their bloodlust in order to “purify their souls”. It immediately sets you up to sympathize with the Sandin’s, while also making you think about how horrible Purge Night must be for poor families who can’t afford the best of the best security system.

Ultimately, I think that maybe too many people were focusing on the rather radical idea of the “Purge Night” to realize that this film was more about the psychology behind the effects that this night has on those who want nothing to do with it. In this case the effects that it was having on this once perfect and proper upper class family from the suburbs. These are people who do not believe in murder, people who are staying as far away from it as possible yet the unthinkable has happened and it has popped their beautiful little white bread bubble. Now we get to see how they handle it when it’s forced in their faces and they can no longer avoid it. In this there were several scenes that genuinely moved me, that had me thinking “What would I do in this situation” and many moments in which I didn’t know how to feel. It managed to get into my head enough for me to actively be putting myself in the shoes of the Sandin family, and for that, I commend the film.

On that same note though, the writing seemed pretty sloppy at times. There were decisions that the characters were making that had me scratching my head, asking myself “Why?”. It seemed as if DeMonaco was struggling under the weight of such a heavy and deep theme, and that he didn’t know how to fully articulate all of the thoughts that he had rushing through his mind. His vision seemed to have been lost at times. At the same time, this was DeMonaco’s first major release, and overall, I enjoyed the film. I have to respect DeMonaco for making the decision to not only direct, but to write a horror film in which he’s daring the viewers to think. That doesn’t happen often with horror films that receive major distribution and I appreciate that from him.

So, yes, DeMonaco injected this film full of commentary about social classes and how the rich interact with the poor. He attempts to delve deep into what is, in essence, class warfare. Is he successful? That’s up to you to decide. I think it could have been a whole lot worse and, for what it is, it’s an enjoyable and fun film that goes a little deeper than most. In a couple days I’ll post the review for The Purge: Anachy, so keep an eye out, but most importantly…

Keep it spooky,


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