CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE PURGE (2013)
By L.L. Soares (with a brief appearance by Michael Arruda)
L.L. SOARES: Ah, it’s almost time for the Purge, Michael! I can hardly wait. (starts strapping on axes and handguns and chainsaws and hunting knives and chainsaws and shotguns and ice picks and rocket launchers).
MICHAEL ARRUDA; That sure is a lot of stuff.
LS: You bet. I take this holiday seriously. It’s the one time of the year I can get away with murder, literally, without it being a crime.
(LOUD NOISE is heard. The sound of metal crunching)
LS: What the hell is that? (contines to strap on things like battleaxes and longswords and maces and a gattling gun and poison darts and venomous snakes and the shiny ball from PHANTASM)
LS: What do you mean…Oops?
MA: I think I accidentally pressed the “Lock Down” button. Nobody can get in now.
LS: That’s okay. I can still go outside, right?
(MA does not respond)
(MA twiddles thumbs)
MA: Well, you see, I’ve got my system on a timer. No one can disarm it until the Purge is over. So you can’t leave.
LS: You’re telling me I waiting all year long for Purge night so that I can commit whatever crimes I want and not be arrested, and on this momentous night, you have rigged it so I can’t leave your house?
(LS straps on one last item, a little tiny Derringer, and goes to take a step forward, and collapses under the weight of everything he has strapped to himself.)
MA: Looks like you wouldn’t be able to make it ouside with all that stuff anyway.
LS: I could always downgrade!
MA: Look, you can’t join in on the Purge this year. Deal with it. In the meantime, we can make popcorn and review this week’s movie. Which just happens to be THE PURGE. Do you want to start?
LS (starts crying and stamping his feet): But I wanted to do some killing and pillaging!
MA: I said I was sorry.
LS: Okay, I’ll start the review. But you owe me one.
MA: You start. I’ll go put some popcorn in the microwave. (Leaves the room)
THE PURGE takes place is a dystopian future. Or is utopian? I guess it depends on your point of view. There’s low unemployment, a low crime rate, no war, and lots of prosperity. How did society achieve all this, you ask? Well, there’s some talk of “New Founding Fathers,” so I’m guessing a new kind of government has taken over. And part of this new regime is an annual ritual, the Purge, which states that one night a year—from 7pm until 7am the next morning—all crime is legal, including murder (of course, there’s a clause in there where certain government people with a clearance of 10 or higher are exempt and cannot be killed. Those guys always have to cover their asses). There’s also a restriction on the kinds of weapons you can use, I noticed, too. Well, enough about that….the idea is that if society can cut loose and go bonkers one night a year, it will purge everyone’s violent tendencies so they can go back to being model citizens again the rest of the year.
I actually found this premise really interesting. Finally, a horror movie about IDEAS. Most Hollywood horror movies are more concerned with body counts. Could a future like this ever really happen? Who knows. But it’s an interesting theory. I for one have always really dug the theme of civilization vs. savagery; it’s a theme that has even popped up in some of my fiction.
(Pulls out a copy of Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents and thumbs through it)
Anyway, our protagonists are your typical American family, the Sandins. There’s the father, James Sandin (Ethan Hawke, most recently in last year’s above-average thriller, SINISTER) , mother Mary (Lena Headey, probably best known these days as the villainous Cersei Lannister in the megahit HBO series GAME OF THRONES), daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and son Charlie (Max Burkholder). Daddy made big money selling security systems to rich families just like theirs in anticipation of the Purge. The family sits around the TV to celebrate the beginning of the news coverage—like it’s New Year’s Eve or something—and the big lockdown of their home. All seems well in SandinLand.
That is until Charlie sees a wounded man (Edwin Hodge) desperately seeking shelter from a gang of psychos. The kid can’t just sit by and let the guy be murdered, so he opens the doors to let him in. James immediately locks things up again, but there’s suddenly a stranger loose in their house. Meanwhile, up in Zoey’s room, her boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) snuck into the house before lockup, so he can reason with her dad about their relationship (James thinks he’s too old for Zoey). His logic being “He can’t throw me out, he has to listen to me.”
Oh yeah, and there’s a gang of psychos outside, banging on the door to be let in. Seems that they were hunting the wounded man for sport, this being Purge Night and all, and since they’re completely within their rights to do it, they are rather ticked off that someone has spoiled their fun. So they offer the Sandin family a choice. Send the wounded guy out to them so they can finish having fun. Or they’ll force their way in and kill everyone.
The psychos look like preppy Ivy League college kids wearing creepy masks and carrying various weapons. They’re led by led by a “Polite Stranger” (that’s what they call him in the credits) played by Rhys Wakefield. He’s so psycho, he kills one of his own friends for speaking out of turn during the negotiations. Polite Stranger is also the only one of the gang who removes his mask, so we can see his leering, preppy-boy face.
So what’s going to happen? Is the family going to track down that homeless guy and send him out to be butchered or will they stand and fight? Can the bad guys really get inside when the house has state-of-the-art security that James had installed himself? And what about Henry, will he finally earn James’s respect and the right to date his daughter?
All this and more will be revealed when you see THE PURGE.
(Sound of microwave beeping in another room)
LS: Sounds like Michael is almost ready with that popcorn. I’d really like to hear his opinion of this movie. Hey Michael, get in here.
Anyway, like I said before, I thought the concept of “The Purge” was kind of cool. This is not the first time we have seen something like this, of course. This film has elements of “siege on a house” movies like STRAW DOGS (1971) and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) — both of which have been remade in recent years—the teenage thugs are reminiscent of the Droogies in Stanley Kubrick’s classic, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971); the creepy masks and sense of mystery and menace are right out of THE STRANGERS (2008), and even the concept of the Purge itself is similar to the sacrifices made by the kids in THE HUNGER GAMES, (2012) by just as merciless a government (which in turn brings to mind Shirley Jackson’s classic story, “The Lottery,” and the Japanese movie BATTLE ROYALE, 2000). As I said, it’s not a completely new idea, but it’s a clever spin on it, and it works well here.
LS: Where the hell is Michael with that popcorn? And he better have stocked up on beer, too.
(LS wanders down the hall and downstairs, heading toward the kitchen. When he gets there, there’s no sign of Michael. And the microwave is still beeping)
LS: Michael, where are yooooou?
That’s funny. (Pops open the microwave and starts eating the popcorn)
Anyway, back to the review. Director James DeMonaco previously gave us the drama LITTLE NEW YORK (2009), which also starred Hawke, and was previously a screenwriter, one of his scripts in fact being the 2005 remake of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (coincidence?). DeMonaco does a good job building suspense here, and maintaining it throughout. I thought this movie was a solid piece of filmmaking.
The score, by Nathan Whitehead, is also quite good, helping to set the tone and build suspense throughout. (Barry Lee Dejasu interviews Whitehead for his Scoring Horror column tomorrow).
The cast is very good, beginning with Hawke and Headey. I was on the fence about Hawke for a long time, but he’s been in a string of interesting films lately. And it’s ironic that the same day THE PURGE comes out, his other new film BEFORE MIDNIGHT, a smart romantic drama by Richard Linklater, which could not be more different, also opens in several cities. The man is on a roll.
Even the kids are good in this one, although I was cursing when Charlie unlocked the house so the wounded guy could get in. I know he thought he was doing the right thing, but to put his whole family at risk, I wanted to strangle the brat. His is the first of several moral decisions these characters have to make, though.
Rhys Wakefield is also really good as the “Polite Stranger.” He has an almost Joker-like quality to him that reminded me of the late Heath Ledger. Wakefield is suitably creepy here, and I wanted more of his character, and I wanted to know more about him. But there isn’t a lot of room for character development when everything hits the fan.
I also like how THE PURGE deals with issues of class and race. In this future of lower crime, there’s also more poverty, and the evening news debates whether the Purge was thought up to legally wipe out people that society didn’t want. And by society, they obviously mean “rich society.” The wounded man who is given sanctuary in the Sandins’ house is black, homeless and, judging by the dog tags around his neck, a veteran of one of those wars we no longer have in this alternate future, and yet he’s hunted like an animal by privileged preppies in Halloween masks.
I really enjoyed this one. It was well-acted, suspenseful, thoughtful and shined a light on the ugly side of human nature. That’s what good horror is supposed to do! Show us the sides of humanity we would rather not see.
I give this one three and a half knives.
Now would normally be the time when Michael pipes in with his lame-brained review of the movie, but he’s clearly not around. I bet he’s playing some kind of prank on me.
(A MAN enters the kitchen, wearing a creepy mask and holding a machete)
MASKED MAN: It’s Purge night. Time for you to meet your maker.
LS: Who the hell are you, and how did you get in here. And what did you do with Michael?
MASKED MAN: Who’s Michael? I snuck in through a cellar window that wasn’t covered up. And now, say good-bye (raises machete)
LS: And me without all my weapons. Seems like I left them all upstairs…Uh oh.
MASKED MAN: Here I come. Ready or not.
(LS grins and pulls out an AK-47)
LS: Except for this one. (Blows the guy away)
LS: Hey, that was fun. I hope more people sneak in!
(MA enters the room)
MA: What’s going on in here? What’s all the racket? I leave you alone for a couple of minutes and you’re already getting into mischief.
(Looks at the dead guy in the mask)
MA: How did he get in here?
LS: He said something about an uncovered cellar window?
MA: Uh, oh, I better go check that out.
LS: Hey, wait a minute. I just finished my review of THE PURGE. Do you have anything to add?
MA: I was so busy preparing for Purge Night, I didn’t have time to see it.
LS: You’re kidding me.
MA (shrugs): Oops.
LS (looks at the clock): Well, my review is over and there’s still 10 hours to go of the Purge. I just thought of something. I can’t go outside to cause mayhem, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have fun. I’m in here, after all, with you.
MA: Umm…what are you getting at?
LS: You’re it. I’m going to count to 100 and then come looking for you with a chainsaw. Won’t that be fun? So after you check the cellar, make sure to hide real good!
(MA presses the “UNLOCK” button)
MA: I suddenly remembered how to let you go outside.
(LS then proceeds to strap on guns and knives and chainsaws and swords and rocket launchers and battleaxes, and then topples over when he tries to go outside)
© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares
LL Soares gives THE PURGE~three and a half knives.