The Purge advanced screening: Cleansing Hollywood of its sins
The Purge is better than you probably expect, and you’re probably already hyped for it. It’s rare that a film has writing, directing, and acting work with perfect synchronization to establish a solid image for the film. It would have passed as a stirring horror/thriller based on concept alone, but it refuses to rely only on its marketable premise to attract viewership. Finally, we can enjoy a horror movie without feeling like we’re being baby-talked to.
The Purge toys with the concept of an America in which all crime (as long as it is not at the expense of a prominent government figure) is legalized for 12 hours, one night a year. During this time no help is available; police and hospitals are preoccupied hiding in their own homes. Purging night has helped whittle crime rates to a measly 1% of what it used to be, and helps Americans unleash pent-up aggression. It’s a foolproof system.
James Sandin (Ethan Hawke, giving horror another go since his role in Sinister) makes a large profit for his family by selling security systems designated especially for the yearly occasion. When purging night arrives once more, he and his wife (Lena Headey) and two kids (Adelaide Kane and Max Burkholder) prepare for an uneventful night behind the protective barriers.
But the beautiful thing about America is that everyone is entitled to their opinion. James’ son Charlie doesn’t see the humanity in purging night. When a homeless man becomes the target of a group of masked hunters who use the night to unleash their heinous (but highly educated) anger, Charlie lets him through the barrier into their home. The group of anonymous private school students targets the family for protecting the swine born to be hunted this night. “If you had to kill someone tonight, would you?” Charlie asks his parents.
Unrelentingly gripping the guileful concept, director and screenwriter James DeMonaco slides current political issues into the film. The concept is navigated from the standpoint of a typical small American neighborhood. There’s sweet old Mrs. Robinson from across the street, pulling a final batch of chocolate chip cookies out of the oven and sharpening her machete for tonight. Who do you know who would take advantage of purging night, the film asks. Would you?
Our four heroes don’t have much time to make up their minds. Morals, instincts, and beliefs clash as the family attempts to survive and retain their humanity. The acting is fantastic across the board, especially Rhys Wakefield as our charming gun happy antagonist. He’s very Ledger-esque without coming across as a blatant rip off.
Every scene is fueled with an agenda to entertain and a different means of entertainment. Part churning and suspenseful and part heart-in-your-throat action, the film rewards with every sequence. The action scenes play well and are perhaps the most satisfying of the film, despite being nearly incoherent from frantic camera movement. The audio is recorded with raw scratchiness from the opening scene and teases its way to a climax of rending but pleasant clamor. (Maybe my position a mere five rows away from the screen made it louder than it actually was.) The over-the-top gunfights combat the film’s clever subtleties well.
The true greatness of the film is how DeMonaco uses horror as a medium to provide social and political commentary. I don’t think most horror movies can add 2 plus 2. This film could ace a calculus exam.
Bonus: producer and CEO of Blumhouse Jason Blum held a Q&A after the film was over. Blum is the mastermind behind horror hits such as Insidious and Paranormal Activity (and, if I was writing this in 2014, I’d most likely include The Purge on that list). Blum is a very down-to-earth and tan guy eager for The Purge to hit theaters. Someone in the crowd asked him how long the Paranormal Activity series will go on. His frank reply: “I probably shouldn’t say this… Paranormal Activity will continue as long as people continue to see it.” Interesting.
The Purge comes out either May 31 or June 7 (no definite answer was given at the Q&A). There’s no doubt in my mind this quieter film can stand its ground against the extravagant CGI and chivalrous superheroes this summer.
Mr. Blum and Mr. Krum