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Purge, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Before Sunrise: Into Darkness"
1 stars

"The Purge" is a film that is built entire on the kind of premise that sounds deliciously intriguing when heard for the first time but which grows more and more implausible the longer that one actually sits down and thinks about it. That does not automatically make it a bad movie by any means--the immortal "Speed" had just such a premise but managed to spin that out into a still-classic piece of pop entertainment. The trick is to take that premise and run with it in such clever and exciting ways that the audience is too distracted to realize just how silly the entire enterprise is until the end credits have long since finished unspooling. Alas, the film utterly fails to deliver any actual suspense or excitement that might distract viewers from such musings and even with an abbreviated 85-minute run time, "The Purge" gives viewers far too much time to contemplate just how utterly nonsensical the whole thing really is.

So what is this allegedly brilliant idea, you may ask? Well, in the not-too-distant future, America is on the brink of economic collapse when a new political faction is swept into office and by the year 2022, America is now a peaceful and prosperous place with an unemployment rate hovering at around 1%. The secret to the country's new success is an annual event known as The Purge. Every March 22, from 7 PM to 7 AM, all crime is now legal and anything--murder, rape, illegally downloading Taylor Swift songs--is up for grabs for anyone who wants to take part. The theory is that by venting their emotions in such a brutal way, the populace will be able to rid themselves of such feelings and continue to be prosperous and productive members of society. On the other hand, since the rich are able to afford the best weapons with which to attack or defend themselves or elaborate home security systems to hide behind if they choose not to participate, some dissenters believe that by killing off those on the lower rungs of society, the purgers are helping their leaders lower the unemployment rate and rid the country of those deemed to be undesirable.

It all sounds vaguely compelling at first--kind of like what "A Clockwork Orange" might have been in the hands of Ayn Rand--but once you start thinking about it, millions of questions begin to pop up. Who thought of this idea and how in the hell did it receive enough popular support to become law? Exactly how does one night of mass slaughter boost the economy? Suppose I knowingly full out my income tax returns in a knowingly false manner but get it postmarked during the Purge--does it still go through? Could I marry a guy in Texas during that time? If abortion is made illegal in this future, could someone get one during that time without fear of reprisal? Would insider trading be covered as well? How about streaking during a sporting event? Copyright infringement?

I realize that some of these suggestions--and believe me, they were flying fast and furious amongst my colleagues before the screening began--may be a bit silly but quite frankly, the only way to really execute this kind of premise would be as dark social satire, maybe as a faux-documentary charting the grotesque depths that people will voluntarily sink in the name of an illusion of safety and prosperity through the conceit of violence as a form of cathartic entertainment. Instead, we bear witness to the 2022 Purge through the eyes of prosperous James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) and his family--wife Mary (Lena Headley), daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and son Charlie (Max Burkholder)--as they prepare to ride out this year's festivities from behind the walls of his gated community inside a heavily fortified McMansion that was paid for largely out of James' job selling high-tech security systems to his neighbors. Alas, the best-laid plans of craven opportunists quickly fall apart once the Purge begins when an African-American bum (Edwin Hodge) turns up at their door after escaping an attack and is let in by the noble-but-dumb Charlie and Zoey's much older and decidedly creepy boyfriend (Tony Oller) unexpectedly pops up for a bit. The bum (and don't get huffy with me because that is how he is billed) disappears into the bowels of the house just as his attackers, a group of college kids led by a pompous ponce (Rhys Wakefield) whose chief Purge crime appears to be stealing John Malkovich's entire persona, arrive on the scene.

In the grand tradition of Wile E. Coyote, the punk cooly informs the family of his superiority and tells them that unless they bring the bum out so they that can continue their purging, they will use a secret weapon to break into the house and kill them all. It all sounds like shameless boasting, of course, but once the power is cut, James is forced to admit that his security systems are not quite as effective as advertised and that even something as elemental as a battering ram could do the trick. As a result, James is forced into a situation in which he has to participate in a ritual that he has profited from handsomely but which he has never had to deal with from anything other than a cool distance until now. Lucky for him, the African-American knows his place and agrees to voluntarily leave and accept his fate in order to save the very people who were trying to kill him moments earlier but before that can happen, the punks break in and the Sandins have to defend themselves by any means necessary.

Although I have no working knowledge of the production history behind "The Purge," this is how I imagine it came together. One night, writer-director James DeMonaco woke up with an idea so simple and basic that he immediately jotted it down, perhaps wondering why it was that no one else had ever come up with such a notion before. The very next day, he pitched that one simple idea to financiers, distributors and actors and they all signed on based solely on the promise of that premise. Alas, once the contracts were signed and the celebratory cigars lit, DeMonaco sat down to actually transform this genius idea into a screenplay and slowly realized to his horror why no one had ever come up with it before--because it is an idea that does not make any sense at all and any attempt to fix one of its gaping holes in logic would only open up a dozen more in its place. Even Rob Zombie would look at this screenplay and gently suggest that it has more than a few structural problems.

For example, instead of showing the effects of the Purge through the eyes of the homeless guy, where it might have had some dramatic impact and allowed the audience to develop some kind of rooting interest in the proceedings, it puts the inherently unlikable Sandins front and center and asks us to care about what happens to them. It then requires them to act like idiots for no other reason that to keep what passes for a plot moving along until the carnage kicks into overdrive. (Zoey in particular has such a knack for insanely stupid behavior that she makes Kim Bauer seem like a Mensa candidate by comparison.) Once that starts, whatever points that DeMonaco might have hoped to make about the crass commercialization of violence fly out the window as people are shot, stabbed, beaten and tortured in ways designed to inspire maximum excitement from the more bloodthirsty audience members. Oh yeah, there is even a big twist towards the end that makes so little sense, even within the confines of its already shaky narrative, that you would swear that M. Night Shyamalan was brought in to do a script polish.

Awkwardly bringing together the lamest elements of films as diverse as "Straw Dogs," "Christmas with the Kranks," "The Strangers," "The Legend of Bagger Vance," any number of awful short stories from a sophomore year creative writing class and every horror movie made in the wake of "Halloween" that derives the vast majority of its scares from eerie figures suddenly popping up in the back of the frame, "The Purge" is a movie that would be incredibly offensive if it weren't so damned stupid in every possible way. That said, I must confess to a perverse desire to see a sequel that would take place on the day after the Purge. I want to see scenes showing the details of the long and presumably extensive cleanup process. I want to see decidedly uncomfortable neighborhood block meetings in which the agenda includes signing up a new garbage collection service, collection all the pier fees and the fact that Norman tried to kill me with a machete! Most of all, I want to see an explanation as to why James didn't just install a panic room in the first place.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25095&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/06/13 15:57:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Stanley Film Festival For more in the 2013 Stanley Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/03/20 DavidV I can appreciate this more that the sequels are set in a larger scope 3 stars
9/14/17 morris campbell good premise turns into a standard home invasion flick 3 stars
2/28/15 stanley welles interesting, if improbable idea: execrable execution 2 stars
6/09/14 Richard Brandt Nutzoid premise for standard home-invasion fare with vague social-message overtones 3 stars
11/30/13 action movie fan clever better than average horror film with surprise twists 4 stars
11/23/13 mr.mike It was "no bad". 4 stars
9/23/13 ALICE Very bad script, bad acting and why they think it is a horror beats me... 1 stars
7/25/13 Langano Interesting premise but a predictable ending. 3 stars
6/18/13 christian thomas i loved it. edge of the seat thriller. looking forward to sequel. 5 stars
6/13/13 Julie jones 100% crap wasted 85 minutes of my life watching this 1 stars
6/10/13 Mattomic "murder, rape, illegally downloading Taylor Swift songs" Classic! 2 stars
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  07-Jun-2013 (R)
  DVD: 08-Oct-2013

  31-May-2013 (15)

  DVD: 08-Oct-2013

Directed by
  James DeMonaco

Written by
  James DeMonaco

  Ethan Hawke
  Lena Headey
  Adelaide Kane
  Max Burkholder

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