Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Purge

Directed by James DeMonaco.
2013. Rated R, 85 minutes.
Rhys Wakefield
Adelaide Kane
Max Burkholder
Edwin Hodge
Tony Oller
Arija Bareikis
Dana Bunch
Chris Mulkey
Tisha French

James Sandin (Hawke) and his family are getting ready to completely lock down their home as they do every year during the annual Purge. The Purge is the one night of the year where everything is legal. Whatever crime you want to commit, up to and including murder, is fair game. The idea behind it is that being allowed to do what you want for this night will purge the evil from our systems. It seems to have been effective. Excluding Purge Night, crime and unemployment are almost non-existent and the economy is in phenomenal shape. The Sandins don't participate, though. They barricade themselves in their home using the same expensive security system that James has made a very nice living selling.

Of course, if the Sandins just shut their doors to the world raging outside and the night passed without a hitch, we wouldn't have a movie. Still, Mary (Headey) stands by with  passive look on her face while her husband brings the barricades down. Their daughter Zoey (Kane) stomps off to her room because that's what teenage girls do. Meanwhile, their son Charlie (Burkholder), equipped with some techno gadgetry of his own and a bleeding heart, pays close attention to the security cameras. When Zoey gets back to her room she finds her boyfriend there. Yup, dad doesn't like him. He snuck in before the lock down, or never left, since he was there earlier in the day. Minor detail. Point is he is not supposed to be there. However, that's a small issue compared with what Charlie does. While watching those cameras he notices a random black man staggering and screaming for help in the middle of the street. Why yes, he opens up the house and lets the guy in. Obviously, this man being a stranger in the Sandins home on the most dangerous night possible is a problem, but there is even bigger trouble following him. A group of well-to-do white twenty-somethings were trying to purge by killing our random black man when he got away. Having figured out that he's hiding in the Sandin house, they go knocking on the once again barricaded door. Their demand? Send him out so that we may finish killing him or we will find a way in and kill all of you! The problem? It's a pretty big house and the Sandins can't find the guy.

The Purge is a highly political movie masked as a home invasion thriller. It's pretty clear, to me at least, which characters represent Republicans and which are Democrats. The actions taken by them, particularly the ones seeming to be Republicans, are exaggerated versions of what their present ideologies imply. After all, we're told several times the Purge has become an annual massacre of the homeless, the poor, and anyone else the haves deem to be an unproductive member of society. This amplifies the importance of the homeless guy being black. With both of those things perceived to be working against him, he seems a prime candidate to be purged. If you happen to be a conservative don't take offense. I'm just noting how those views sound to people who don't share them.

Like most movies that position themselves as social allegories, The Purge not only tries to give us its point of view, but to provoke questions as well. One of the questions that immediately springs to mind is could an annual purge work? No matter which side of the political ledger you fall, I think you'd agree the correct answer is 'not a chance in hell.' It might be tantalizing to think that it could. Your initial feeling may be 'if we just had that one night to get all the anger and hatred out of our system we would be happy and content, or at least able to restrain ourselves for a year.' However, if you've ever met a human being you quickly realize this is some cockamamie bullshit. Still, it makes for an interesting film premise. Just don't take it literally.

Speaking of the film, let's actually get back go it. Sorry for my rambling. Then again, that rambling is a symptom of the problem with the movie. The thoughts and conversations stemming from its ideas are better than our experience watching it, by a longshot. I don't think it's a bad movie, just an okay one. Ethan Hawke does a very nice job as our dad-turned-action-hero, desperately trying to protect his family. Our first group of bad guys are a purposely faceless and freakish bunch. The second group of baddies aren't quite faceless. For one, they don't wear masks. Unfortunately, their part of the story is telegraphed way too early. The tension created by this whole situation is not as unbearable as it should be, either. Finally, by the end, it just becomes too blatant in its message and reveals itself to be too small for its premise. Watching this family defend themselves is nice and all, but a film more worthy of its ideas might have been made by broadening its scope beyond the walls of our wealthy hosts.

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