Thursday, March 20, 2014

Review: The Purge

Version I Watched: Standard definition Redbox rental.

History: Very little and mostly very basic information on the movie. It was made using a very small budget of $3 million. The writer/director James DeMonaco supposedly got the idea after his wife made a comment about a moment of road rage he had. It premiered at the Stanley Film Festival, a horror fest based in Estes Park, Colorado with a mainstream theatrical release a month later. Despite having mixed to negative reviews the movie was a big success. Pulling in nearly $90 million worldwide. A sequel will be released later this year and will cover a couple who has to survive the streets after their car breaks down at the start of the purge.

Personal History: First time viewing. I actually never even saw a trailer. Just screenshots, posters, and a plot description.

Review: So I meant to watch this movie a long time ago. This, along with The Conjuring, both came out around the same time. Unlike most horror that comes out (despite it being my favorite genre) I had an intense interest in both titles. But I have still not seen The Conjuring and am only seeing The Purge now.
I did have different plans for the day I rented this. I was going to rent Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes but as of the morning of release there's not a single Redbox in my area that is carrying it. In the entire Madison, WI, and surrounding areas. It'll probably take a few days or more like South Park: The Stick of Truth. I also was thinking of cancelling my pre-order of Frozen in favor of running out to the stores and picking it up right away instead of waiting for it to come in the mail (I originally pre-ordered cause I didn't know how hard it would be to pick up in stores due to popularity and how available I would have been) but Amazon wasn't able to cancel it since it was shipping soon at the time (currently in transit somewhere in AZ I think). I'd rather not go through the return process with an online ordering service. So then I remembered the trailers I saw when I went to see Non-Stop last night (a pretty cool thriller that was a step above average, not mind blowing, but had a good intense climate you already saw a preview of in the trailer). Among them was The Purge: Anarchy. And you see where this is going.
But one last note on that. My wife had never heard of The Purge so in the trailer to the sequel when they said, "All crime, including murder, will be legal for the next 12 hours." her jaw dropped and it was hilarious!

I absolutely love the plot of this movie!
That was my thought when I first heard about it. If you really look at the genre as a whole you'll find that it is one of the most creative storytelling around. Despite there being thousands of scary bad guy/monster slash fests you'll find that some of the ones that are considered the most popular or best really have more variety than other genres. And that's because the fans who become the filmmakers are able to pull their ideas together with relative ease seeing as horror needs less money than others. Not to mention the cheapness likens to lesser known actors, which in turn helps the genre because really want to be scared, you need to be pulled in without that constant star recognition.
Well now, this movie does have a pretty (somewhat) famous dude. The big star is Ethan Hawke. Someone who hasn't exactly had major roles that people remember since... wait, what do people remember him from? Training Day? Lord of War? Maybe Gattaca? Come to think of it I don't have a key movie I recall him from but I do remember seeing him in stuff here and there. That was before I saw Sinister. Whenever I see him or hear his name I immediately think of Sinister. Or, as I like to call it, one of the biggest and best surprises in horror in the last decade! Yes, I rank it up there with Paranormal Activity and The Devil's Rejects. I fucking loved Sinister!
Not that Ethan Hawke will make or break my liking for this moving.

The movie does start off in a pretty typical modern horror fashion. It takes the opening credits to showcase information we won't get just watching the main story of the movie. In this case we get to see archived footage from the previous purges. These are all rough security camera footage of beatings and murder most fowl. It was pretty neat to see considering the fact that I knew the whole movie would take place in one home instead of around the city. Then the movie does something most movies do. Establish the main characters quickly and get right to the main story that we all came to see. We find out the dad is a successful security system salesman (no surprise considering the plot), the wife is his... wife, the daughter is sorta rebellious (but not really) and has a hidden boyfriend, and the son is the weird one who plays with Frankensteined gadgets and has some sort of heart condition that requires him to check his vitals often even though it doesn't come up again or becomes an issue in the movie (spoilers).
Okay so the characters aren't exactly memorable but there was something key I got from this part of the movie. First, this story takes place in 2022. The movie was released in 2013 but let's assume the basis was to be ten years in the future. So this annual purge. A twelve hour period where all crime is legal, including murder, with no law enforcement or emergency services available until dawn. It is so well established in this future world that everyone just walks, talks, and acts like it's totally normal. They'll said stuff like (not exact quotes):
"Going out for one more walk before the purge?"
"Yeah." [Smiles]
"You take care of yourself tonight."
"You, too!"
That's the kind of small talk you make on St Patty's Day (relevant, recent reference) because it's 'soooo crazy' that you 'might not make it through the night.' But this is referencing something where hundred, hell THOUSANDS of people will die and the fucking government is okay with that! AS ARE THE PEOPLE! At least the rich ones.

I'm a big fan of contextual scares. And what I mean by that is that while I find stuff like the masks in this movie creepy, or some of the violence in other horror unsettling, to me what is the scariest is the context of what's going on. Not just the fact that there's a scary bad guy or that someone might die. I'm talking deeper than that. It makes me think of a scene in the Japanese horror movie Suicide Club. There's a scene on the rooftop of a school where a bunch of teens are talking about suicide like it's a fad. Not to mention there's a part when a student is standing on the edge of the school gleefully screaming, "I'm gonna do it!" and all the other kids are cheering her on like it's a fucking sports game. It's a really unsettling moment that gives me chills because it is taking something as serious and sad as suicide and making it seem... fun?
Going back to The Purge. All the way through the first act of the movie all I could think about was how unsettling it is that people are not only okay with this annual purge but they embrace it. They talk about how much it helps the economy. How low unemployment and crime is now. Because all the low lives are dead! ALLLLLLL thanks to this annual event. It's talked about like people talk about politics they like. No there are no moments where we see the typical anti-purge group like in any movie where there's a controversial law or anything of the like in place. That I was happy to not see because that goes without saying. But even when THE HAWKE and his family are in the thick of it, it takes time before he sees the reason why a purge isn't exactly a great method of handling the problem with the economy. He keeps saying it works and that they need to just get through the night.

One of my concerns when I first heard about this movie was if the movie would start out unique only to delve into a very typical horror, slasherish story. That's not entirely true for this one. Mostly because the plot of the movie gave a different feel to the story as a whole. Usually in other stories if there's a killer on the loose there's the concern of being caught. Not here. Everything is considered legal so there are no punishments for these actions. And while the more supernatural horror like Nightmare and Friday the 13th have that non-worry about the killer being caught by the cops, this feels different because of how nothing is supernatural here. What resulted in that was I kept reminding myself of that whenever I felt things may have been going in a typical fashion. I kept reminding myself the context which this was happening.
So yes, unfortunately there were some cliches throughout and definitely some issues I had with how things played out. The opening setting up the world, fantastic. The one dumb thing done to establish the horror I could deal with because there would be next to no horror if it weren't for people doing stupid shit. But as the third acting got going and Hawke's home was being full on invaded and it turned into a war zone it starting diving into cliche and predictability. With the exception of the end. An end that started as what looked like deus ex machina but quickly turned into something else. Not mind blowingly different but a nice departure from where it was heading.

So while some of the story itself played out cliche and predictable, I will say the antagonist had a strong level of uniqueness. Shortly after Hawke's dumb kid lets in a random, hurting bum, not knowing whether or not he was safe to have in there (take a guess) because he was pleading for help a gang of misfits show up at Hawke's door. This gang shows up trigger happy all wearing creepy masks which made this movie feel something like a more political/legal version of The Strangers. At first I was disappointed when the leader revealed his real face cause I like the mystery. But that quickly changed when he revealed himself more, his intentions and so forth but everyone else kept their masks on. They knew which character to personalize and the rest we all knew as goons helping out.
This bit creeped me out, going along with the whole contextual scare. The leader of this rag-tag team didn't have that "Nyah nyah nyah I'm so delightfully eeeeEEEEEEvill" approach, nor did he have the "I WILL FUCKING KILL YOU IF YOU DON'T GIVE ME WHAT I WANT!" or even the putting down, elitist approach like Hawke and his family are simpletons who are in their way. No. He spoke very diplomatically. Like this was a political situation. And his demands were simple. He wanted the bum given back so they can do the purpose of the purge by eliminating the lowest common denominator in society, otherwise they'll break in and kill the bum along with the entire family. All spoken very soft and even professional with just a sprinkle of sadistic attitude. It gave good character. And it was a character we only ever saw from Hawke's perspective. We never see any cutaway to the outside and see things from the bad guy perspective. A good omission because it would hurt the mystery of these characters.

Despite the good character and the good turns the otherwise potentially cliche story could have taken (and partially did) I did have some thoughts on the plot in the grand scheme of things.
Let's say we do live in a world where an annual purge is real. How long would that sort of thing last? I get the impression it's a survival of the fittest in terms of wealth because they're the ones who can afford the best weapons or best security systems. So it's the homeless and poor who would be the target. If this has been going on for ten years with potentially hundreds of thousands of deaths a year wouldn't there come a breaking point where they run out of people? And would it really take that long? And how long could some of these weaker citizens hide out before they are struck? And come to think of it, I imagine there's a lot of resourceful people who aren't rich. Smart but poor folks who can trick the richer folks in this sick, government approved game. And wouldn't there be enough of the poorer folks to rise up against the rich and totally ambush the rich neighborhoods? One would think that'd be the first place many would go out of hatred rather than the thrill of the kill. Even if they all have state of the art security systems. I don't know maybe that was done in the first couple years and things have changed since then.
When one really thinks about the numbers, the methods of madness people utilize, and so forth it's hard to believe that the purge would go down the way it did in the movie. But of course that is an isolated incident so who knows what was happening in the other homes, let alone major city they live just outside of. An answer that will apparently be answered in the sequel The Purge: Anarchy. A sequel I'm worrisome about due to the fact that they're taking it to a larger scale. Not saying it will definitely be bad. The fact that it's being directed by the same director is a good sign. I'm just afraid it'll be less of a scary, claustrophobic thriller/horror story and instead feel more like Escape From New York. Not exactly the image I'm thinking of when I think about this movie but the story does lend itself to that sort of setting without actually being an island prison.

Overall I did enjoy this flawed gem. The scares were mostly in the context of the story and the way the characters handled it. Especially when they spoke of it so soft and normal like it was just something that happens. Sure there are other stories like The Hunger Games which turns killing into a sport, but that story and setting is so far advanced and in a different time and place that it disconnects. This is a story set essentially in our era, which makes it far scarier to imagine. All I could think about watching this movie is if I was at home during the purge and someone just broke in to shoot me in the head. It made for a far scarier experience with that intense immersion and really thinking about what's going on and placing yourself in that situation in a not so distant future. While flawed I still recommend it to most of you. Even in a time where I have been making my DVD purchases less often and only on titles I really want, I would definitely buy this one to add to my collection. Totally enjoyed it.

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