June 11, 2013

Movie Review: The Purge (2013)

When I first saw the trailer for The Purge, I thought it looked pretty darn good. Then I sat back and started to think about it and the results were not all that pretty. Just think about the real world logistics of the concept of legalized crime for one night out of the year. It is patently ridiculous. There is no way such a thing would work, it just makes no sense. So, I began to wonder how the would tell the tale. Then came word it only runs 85 minutes. Needless to say, my hopes dwindled.

Frankly, I did not think there was any way that this was going to be a positive experience. So, I decided to make the best of it, put aside my negative thoughts and hope for the best. The resulting experience turned out to be pretty darn good. The movie is surprisingly tough, gleefully violent, and decidedly suspenseful. Don't get me wrong, the idea of still nothing that would work in the real world, that is crazy talk.

Essentially, The Purge is a home invasion movie, not unlike The Strangers or Funny Games (well, perhaps not, that one is a singularly bizarre experience). That is really all it is, that is the hook that drives the suspense. The purge element is the piece that writer/director James DeMonaco (co-writer of The Negotiator and the Assault on Precinct 13 remake, making his directorial debut) uses to try and make you forget it is a home invasion and give you something to think about.

The movie is set a decade into the future. It is a future that apparently reached a breaking point, a new regime has taken over the government and are pushing America down a new path. They have instituted the Purge, an annual event where all crime is legal for a twelve hour period. Clearly this is not something that would work in the real world. The first act has background news bites and some discussion about the meaning of the event and it's place in society.

At first it seemed that the discussion was purely expositional and in a way it is, but it still fits. Think about some of the annual anniversaries that happen now, they are usually accompanied by some sort of news commentary. That is what happens here. There is not a lot, just enough to plant some ideas to help carry you through the suspense of the last two thirds. There is the idea that the night offers a release for what everyone bottles up through the year. There is also the idea that it is not an altruistic event, it is used to eliminate the poor, the ones that are a received drain on the economy. Interesting ideas, both. There is also the idea that this night would breed a new brand of sociopath, evidenced by the "polite stranger" (Rhys Wakefield). Of course, there also the basic ideas of the haves vs. the have-nots and money vs. the poor.

Ethan Hawke stars as James Sandin, a security system salesman who is doing very well for himself. As the Purge approaches, he prepares with his wife and two kids. They engage the security system and prepare for a night on lockdown. The problem is that James' son is beginning to wonder about why this thing is done and his curiosity leads to empathy and he let's an injured and pursued man into the house. This sets up an interesting take on the home invasion. You have a stranger hiding in the house, a family you cannot get in one place, and a gaggle of goofy sociopaths knocking on the front door.

It all adds up to a night long siege that sees the Sandin family forced to make decisions that they never expected to have to make. It is rather interesting to watch them as they struggle with their decisions. Sure, some of those decisions may not be logical, but we aren't in the panicked situation they are, they are likely not thinking straight.

The Purge is a good film, flawed to be sure, but really entertaining. It is a movie that is built on the familiar invasion formula and expanded upon with an idea. It is a movie that is not about reality in the strictest sense, it sets is own reality and plays by is rules. It is more interested in the ideas and the thrills than it is in a real world reality and I am all right with that.

It is shot well and makes use of a lot of close ups. I found this to be quite effective, it added an unsettling effect. The action is quick and the violence brutal. It is a movie I did not have the highest of expectations for and it proceeded to win me over. It may be a little to the short side, but so be it, it entertained me.


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