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Release Date(s)2013 (October 8, 2013)
A lot of the best horror movies of all time have a degree of social commentary to them. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and They Live are just a few examples from a long, long list. But usually, the subtext is weaved in quietly (a major exception would be They Live, whose social commentary ain’t exactly hidden). But in The Purge, the message is delivered with all the subtlety of a sociology seminar.
The basic premise holds some promise. In the near future, unemployment and crime have plummeted and the economy is booming thanks to a yearly ritual known as The Purge. For twelve hours, all emergency services are suspended and all laws are suspended. In the real world, of course, people would spend those twelve hours downloading illegal movies and music and committing credit card fraud. But in the world of The Purge, it’s an excuse to arm yourself to the teeth and riot, murder, pillage and presumably rape (although the filmmakers had the good sense to realize that depicting that one would open a can of worms they had no way of closing, so they basically leave it alone).
The movie focuses on the Sandin family. Patriarch James (Ethan Hawke) is a hot-shot salesman who has gotten rich selling security systems to his neighbors (foreshadowing). Daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) is seeing an older boy her dad disapproves of (foreshadowing). Son Charlie (Max Burkholder) is struggling with doubts about the righteousness of The Purge (foreshadowing). And wife Mary... is played by Lena Headey. Yeah, she doesn’t really register much. Anyway, it’s the night of The Purge and the Sandins are getting ready for lockdown in their sprawling McMansion.
Some spoilers ahead, although not really. I mean, the movie isn’t called The Sandins Play Cribbage For 12 Hours. After lockdown, Charlie hears a homeless guy calling for help outside the house. In an incredibly magnanimous and ill-advised gesture, he gives him sanctuary in the house. Pretty soon, his pursuers, a gang of weirdly masked freaks led by the overly erudite Rhys Wakefield (presumably cast primarily because his face already resembles one of those masks) come calling. They demand the Sandins turn the “homeless swine” over to them... or else. After much hemming and hawing, they choose the “or else” option.
Writer/director James DeMonaco clearly worships at the altar of John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13. He also wrote the screenplay for the 2005 Assault remake, also starring Hawke. For awhile, DeMonaco manages to sustain a fair degree of tension. But then the plot holes begin piling up. Hawke and Headey would probably have an easier time of things if they could just keep their damn kids from wandering away every five minutes. Once they decide to face the freaks, you’d think Hawke might enlist the homeless guy’s aid and offer him a weapon. But no, he leaves him tied up to a chair. Once you start thinking about all the internal inconsistencies, you start thinking about how illogical the entire premise is. Would it really be worth the cost of having to clean up and rebuild large chunks of America once a year to do this? With no emergency services, including fire, entire neighborhoods and cities would probably burn to the ground. If DeMonaco was able to keep the suspense going, we’d be too distracted to worry about any of this. But the movie is continually bogged down by socio-economic and ethical dilemmas that spell out in big bright neon letters what should be the movie’s subtext. When a movie’s message gets in the way of telling a good story, it’s annoying. When it gets in the way of telling a story that doesn’t really make a lot of sense, it’s deadly.
Universal’s combo pack release includes a Blu-ray, DVD, UltraViolet, digital copy, and a large fountain drink. Video quality is very good, especially considering most of the movie takes place in the dark. But details are strong, black levels are solid and you never have to squint to figure out what’s happening. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio is equally impressive. The sole bonus feature is a brief, substance-free promotional featurette called Surviving The Night: The Making of The Purge. And if you consider marketing to be a bonus feature, there are a bunch of trailers before the movie and eight others accessible from the main menu, none of which are for this movie.
The Purge was a surprise box office hit, becoming a part of Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights attraction and a sequel is now in development. That’s hardly a surprise. It’s the kind of premise that can be sustained indefinitely without relying on using any of the same actors from film to film. That’s fine, I guess, but I hope the next one puts a little more thought into the logistics of its story than into the ethical ramifications behind it.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke
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