Sunday, June 16, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: The Purge

So far Summer Movie Season 2013 is a big bust as far as I'm concerned. Big budget blockbusters are premiering every weekend but as yet none have succeeded in connecting with me. Sadly, The Purge continues that trend.

The Purge was written and directed by James DeMonaco, the writer of Skinwalkers, Assault On Precinct 13 (the remake) and Jack (the one where Robin Williams is ten years old but looks like Robin Williams). Now that's an eclectic resume. Not a good one by any means, but boy is it eclectic! 

The basic concept of the Purge-- a society in which all crime is legal for one night a year-- is an intriguing one. Sadly the idea is wasted on a bland and pedestrian home invasion story. Imagine if instead of the script we got we'd have followed a group of characters trying to find shelter in a city during the Purge. Then maybe we'd have had something.

We get little or no information as to the origins of the Purge and precious few of the rules, as if the director isn't interested in how this world works or how it got this way.

The only real rules we're told is that the use of weaponry above Class 4 is prohibited and Level 10 government officials are off limits. I assume that means no using nukes against the President.

What the hell is this film? A satire? A black comedy? Horror film? It seemingly tries to be all of these, but doesn't go far enough in any category. It could have been a scathing commentary on our society-- the One Percent vs. The Poor or the Tea Party Taking Over, but instead it's just a dull, listless film that doesn't mean a thing.

The Purge had a budget of just $3 million dollars, less than what some movies spend on their craft service. Maybe they should have spent a little more and sprung for a decent script. It definitely looks like a low budget film; there are few if any special effects and no prosthetic makeup to speak of. In fact the whole thing seems like a SyFy movie that was released to the theater by mistake.

Hollywood loves these low budget blockbusters (think the interminable Paranormal Activity series) because they make an incredible profit on them. Don't be surprised if Universal greenlights The Purge 2 soon.

SPOILERS (NOT THAT IT MATTERS MUCH)!

The Plot:
The year is 2022. One night a year America celebrates The Purge-- an event in which any and all crime is legal for a period of twelve hours. 

On the night of The Purge, the Sandin family is hunkering down inside their spacious and secure home. Their idiot son deactivates their security system to give shelter to a Homeless Man. Later a group of young psychopaths who were hunting the Homeless Man show up, demanding the Sandins turn him over. Chaos ensues, there's lots of blood and death and little sense.

Pros:

• Honestly, I got nothin.'

Cons:
• The entire concept of The Purge brings up so many questions. We're told that all emergency services are suspended during the event. So if your appendix bursts or you have a heart attack, I guess you're just sh*t out of luck. What if your house catches fire for non-Purge reasons? Or you're in an auto wreck? Too bad for you!

Think of the millions in property damage that would occur as a result of The Purge. Broken windows, vandalized cars and homes, arson-- it would take months to clean it up and sort it all out.

I can only imagine the hundreds of thousands of lawsuits that would arise from such a situation. Or would Purge-related lawsuits be prohibited? We'll never know, as the screenwriter couldn't care less about the specifics of his own concept.

• So all crime is legal during The Purge, but the movie ignores every illegal act except for murder, which of course is the least interesting thing it could do.

Think of all the things they could have touched on that would have been way more interesting. What about embezzlement? Hack into your bank, transfer millions into your account and boom! You're rich and no one can prosecute you. Or steal a new car from the auto dealership. You could rape, pillage and burn with no consequences whatsoever. You could even illegally download all the music you wanted!
 


• As The Purge begins we see the Sandlin family cowering inside their home, hoping to wait out the event in safety and seclusion. Why risk it? Why not just pack up and leave the country during The Purge? The Sandlins are obviously rich, surely they could afford four plane tickets to Paris.

Or is The Purge a world-wide event? I doubt it, as all the newscasts keep saying it's the brainchild of "our New Founding Fathers." Are American citizens allowed to leave the country in 2022?

• The Purge is a nationwide event, but once it begins we're stuck inside the Sandlin home. Keeping the film locked down inside one location becomes absolutely claustrophobic after a while, and a waste of the entire concept.

• This is one of those movies that can only work if every character acts like a complete and utter idiot. If everyone had displayed even an ounce of common sense here's no way the plot would have been able to proceed.

First there's daughter Zoey's boyfriend Henry. Zoey's father James has forbidden her from seeing her boyfriend because he's a couple of years older. Henry's solution to this dilemma is to shoot James during The Purge. Did he even once think this plan through? "There ya go, Baby! I fixed everything. Now we can see each other all we want! Do you still love me now that I killed your father?"

Then there's the Sandlin's weirdo son Charlie. He watches the video monitors and sees a Homeless Man being chased down their street and decides to deactivate the goddamned security system to let him in. Let me repeat that: During an event in which the public is encouraged to kill one another, he lifts the steel doors and windows protecting them to let a complete stranger into their home.


I must say when James finds out what his son did he takes it better than I would have. I'd have lifted the security doors one more time-- to throw son Charlie outside on his ass.

Then there's daughter Zoey. After her father kills her psycho boyfriend Henry, she runs off and hides somewhere in the darkened home, putting herself at risk of accidentally being shot by her parents.

It's honestly hard to feel anything for these characters when they act so ridiculously stupid. I was on the verge of rooting for them to die.

• After the Sandlins let the Homeless Man inside their house, a group of young masked psychos shows up. It seems they were hunting the man and are quite put out that the Sandlins are sheltering their "prey." The Psychos give them an hour to release the Homeless Man or they'll breach the Sandlin home and kill everyone inside.

So the Sandlins took away the Psychos' "prey." Big deal! Go find another homeless guy to kill. Surely there's more than one in this city? 

• James Sandlin's occupation is selling advanced home security systems designed to withstand The Purge. Unfortunately for his customers and for James himself, his security systems are laughably inept.

First of all, the Psychos cut the power to the Sandlin home. Not much of a security system if it can be disabled by cutting the electrical line leading to your house. The security system still works (on batteries!) but it seems like the regular power should be protected somehow as well.

Then when the Sandlins fail to release the Homeless Man, the Psychos get a truck and somehow tie a chain to the front door and pull it off the house, allowing them to enter. As part of the security system, the front door was covered by a thick steel door. It had a couple of window slits in it, but was otherwise perfectly smooth. There was no doorknob, hinges or protrusions. So how'd the Psychos attach a chain to it?

• The director fails miserably at giving us a sense of the space of the house. I have no idea how many rooms there were or where they were in relation to one another. This may not seem like that big a deal, but compare it to a film like When A Stranger Calls. The director of that movie was very careful to give you a complete sense of the layout of that home. You knew exactly where you were and what rooms were around you at all times.

• Late in the film the Sandlin's neighbors show up to kill them. The neighbor characters all seem like they're in a completely different movie, acting in a very broad and satirical manner. It makes it hard to take the movie seriously when the characters aren't.

When you've got a premise as unlikely as this one, your actors need to play it absolutely straight in order to sell the reality of it. Letting them go over the top as they do turns the whole thing into a farce. 

• The neighbors' motivation for wanting to kill the Sandlins was a little sketchy as well. They're jealous that James has enough money to build a new wing on his house. That's it. That's apparently reason enough to murder an entire family. Damn, what would they do they do if they let their grass get too high, draw and quarter them?

I get that the neighbors feel James got rich by preying on their Purge fears and selling them all high-priced security systems, but big deal. He didn't force them to buy, did he?
 
• Did anyone NOT foresee the Homeless Man coming back to save the Sandlins?


But why would he? Earlier in the film they came very close to handing him over to the Psychos and Mrs. Sandlin even stuck a letter opener into his open wound to torture him!

• We're told several times that one of the benefits of The Purge is that it lets citizens release their frustrations. What frustrations? I get that the poor would have plenty, but other than the Homeless Guy we never see anyone from that side of the tracks. All we see are a bunch of rich and privileged white people who live in expensive homes and shouldn't have any reason to feel frustrated.

• The film tells us that in 2022 unemployment is at an impossibly low 1%. This is due to the rich surviving The Purge because they can afford to protect themselves behind reinforced doors, while the poor become prey. Apparently the screenwriter believes the solution to the unemployment problem is to "decrease the surplus population." Just like Scrooge said!

Trouble is our society needs the poor in order to function. Without low-paying service jobs, who's going to serve us our McBurgers? Pick up the trash? Stock our shelves? Sweep up school kids' vomit with red sawdust?


I think the screenwriter has a fuzzy idea (at best!) of economics.

An intriguing concept that's absolutely wasted. Muddled, confused and claustrophobic. I give it a D+.

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