Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Review of The Purge (2013)

I must make a confession, because it will underpin this entire review; the core concept of James DeMonaco's "The Purge" intrigued me from the moment I heard about it. I do not mean that as a comment on the credibility of the idea, nor is that my way of saying that I think it should be enforced, but I found the idea that a Government would make crime legal for one night a year interesting. I doubt it's the kind of thing that would ever really get pushed through in America, but if you take it for what I took it to be, a hidden statement on human nature, then it takes on an interesting element.

Human nature, too, is something inherently interesting to me, and hence I was pleasantly surprised when this film revealed itself to actually be about that. Sure, it markets itself as and has the trappings of a home-invasion horror film, but there is a kernel of human truth here. Take the scene where a man, having been let into the home of a well-to-do suburban family by their pacifist, idealist son, is wanted by a group of sinister killers waiting outside. The family flip-flop between options; let the man go, let him be killed, but be safe themselves? Or keep him safe, but put themselves in danger?

Sure, it's hardly the Stanford Prison Experiment, but the film nevertheless is actually about something. The worth of a human life.

It's about other things, too. It's about a whole mass of things, and there's enough material here for a good four movies, which is astonishing when you consider the 80-odd minute runtime. The film begins on an unexpected satirical note with the mentality that the purge is a new American tradition, for which people should be thankful.

Again, it's hardly Orwell, but I did appreciate it.

The film even, in the final five minutes, does a u-turn that you can kinda see coming, but certainly not the way it arrives, and arrives at that most tricky of subject matters; an (again satirical) expose of small-town thinking and mentality.

Once more, we're hardly dealing with BunĂșel or Lynch here, but y'know, sometimes you just have to go with it.

I went with it. And I came away with a certain admiration for this film, which spreads itself so thin that at times it resembles a wafer. But it's a damn tasty wafer, perhaps with a crude representation of John Locke's "Two Treatises of Government" engraved on it, or something.

The technical stuff; acting wise, it's as good as it needs to be, and then a bit better. Ethan Hawke, as the salesman of security equipment for the purge, and the patriarch of a solid family unit, proves once more that Ethan Hawke can elevate any film into at the very least watchability. Lena Heady, as his wife, initially appears to be saddled with the role of unquestioning spouse, but comes into her own and develops a conscience as the film goes on. Rhys Wakefield as the well-educated, well-spoken "Polite Leader" of the gang breaking into Hawke's house, whilst essentially stealing Michael Pitt's turn as a similarly mannered psychopath in Michael Haneke's "Funny Games", nevertheless delivers the sinister chills.

It's also made with a slick, clean Hollywood professionalism, which makes for a visually uninspired but nevertheless better than functional look. Cinematographer Jacques Jouffret has given us a grey colour pallete, perhaps reflecting the overall morality of the movie (or maybe a stylistic choice) but he also has fun with the little flourishes, such as using a first person perspective from a creepy baby doll on wheels made by Max Burkholder's aforementioned pacifistic son. It's not going to kickstart a new cinematic movement, but it doesn't disgrace itself, sticks to what it knows, and plays to its strengths.

It tries, goddammit, and it's never less than an engaging, interesting, fun, weird, original, occasionally brutal, consistently inconsistent ride that's relatively unlike anything you've probably seen. If you can get over the trappings of the home-invasion thriller lying at the films centre, then this is an oddball piece of work which could have been annoying, but ends up being not quite fascinating, but certainly intriguing.

I'm going to call it a bits and pieces movie. It doesn't stick to one creed, and flits about like a child with ADHD. But, y'know, sometimes all you want is some bits and pieces, especially if they're some damn tasty bits and some really flavoursome, ephemeral pieces.

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