Friday, June 14, 2013

The Purge And The Pain

I have to hand it to The Purge. It's been awhile since a movie borderline enraged me. I run at a real even keel and with all the lousy movies I see, a bad movie is usually the last thing to get under my skin. Hell, most times I enjoy them - but I found The Purge to be such an unforgivable failure on every level that it put me in a sour mood for awhile afterwards. I can definitely tell you that I'll be avoiding all movies written and directed by James DeMonaco in the future. Maybe even ones starring Ethan Hawke, too, just to be safe.

Let's start with the premise, which defies all sense. At some point in the not-so-far future, the US passes a law establishing an annual "Purge Night" during which all crime is legal. The psychological reason behind this being that, given an opportunity to "unleash the beast," that people will be more docile during the rest of the year.

Any successful sci-fi concept has to have a kernel of believability and "Purge Night" doesn't have that. There are many outrageous concepts that can be accepted as within the realm of plausibility but "Purge Night" isn't one of them. This movie would have us believe that people can just go back to their normal lives after a night where their neighbors, co-workers, family members, what have you, have gone out to murder people. The absurdity of that is a hump I can't get over. To even begin to make this concept work, you'd have to take it to a Star Trek sort of level where it's another planet, another species - something where it can be more readily appreciated as an allegorical thing and not something that's taking place in a world that's just barely removed from our own.

And if the idea of Purge Night is that all crime is legal for a 12-hour span and that the solution to surviving it is to go into lockdown with your family, that fails to take into account the possibility that many family members would happily turn on each other on such a night. Not to be overly cynical but how many disgruntled teens or unhappy spouses would let their resentments build up for a year and then take the opportunity to slay their siblings, or parents, or significant others? On a night where murder is legal, being locked in with your family is not exactly the best way to stay safe. Far from it, in fact!

On top of how daft the premise is, the movie additionally requires that every character must act moronic in order to keep the storyline moving. You have to believe that the young son of Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey's characters is a) dumb enough to let a stranger into their house but also b) that he knows the home security code and c) that Hawke and Headey are not keeping a constant eye on their kids during purge night. When you have a night where all hell's breaking loose and there's no recourse to the law, no matter how tight your home security system is you'd think that any parent would insist on everyone sticking close. You'd also think that people would have, at the very least, some concrete bunker action going on. Which brings me to another area of absurdity: Hawke's character sells home security systems and yet we find out that these high-end systems aren't worth a dime. Once a group of would-be purgers decide to break into Hawke's home in order to get to the man that has taken shelter there, it takes them about a hot minute to bust in. Reinforcing how ill-thought out The Purge's premise is, all Hawke can say to Headey when it's clear that their security system is nothing but show are words to the effect of: "Hey, no system is impenetrable! Anyone can get in if they really want to!" Um, shouldn't that be the exact situation that your system is explicitly built for - the times when someone really does want to get in to kill you and they're willing to sweat a little bit to do it? If your system isn't Purge Proof, then some additional work is needed.

Even with all this, had the B-movie goods been delivered, I would have given a pass to The Purge's many illogical elements but yet it completely fails to satisfy on the action front.

While there is plenty of gunplay on tap and various instances of interpersonal mayhem, none of it is handled with any gusto or flair. More critically, a half-hearted anti-violence message is offered during the climax, which allows several heinous characters - characters who were willing to slaughter children - to survive all but completely unscathed and, man, that just doesn't cut it. After asking an audience to swallow such an idiotic premise, to then not reward them with the kind of visceral payoff that might have made it worthwhile and instead basically smugly scold them for even expecting a bloody payoff, is just an outrageous slap in the face.

And in the situation as it plays out in The Purge, the refrain from violence that happens is absolutely absurd. No one would just let things go at the point that they do. No one that you'd ever care to sympathize or identify with, that's for sure. So what you end up with is a movie about "purging the beast" that denies the viewer of any kind of catharsis. How useless is that?

Thanks to its big opening weekend, this nonsense is already getting a sequel and to my mind there's only one thing that could possibly make a Purge 2 watchable - make The Purge be a random event. No more annual Purge Night. Instead, it happens at a random time, on a random day. People are at work, at the mall, out to dinner, whatever. Everything is normal and then sirens go off announcing the beginning of the purge. Then you're really in a dicey situation.

Sure, the idea that the government - or anyone - would think that a Random Purge is a sensible, healthy idea is insane but so is the idea of The Purge itself so why not go with it? I know it'd make for a wild movie.

As for The Purge, well I'm feeling calmer about it now. But not so calm that I'm about to forget it was one of the worst movies I've seen - if not arguably the worst (seriously!) - in a very long time.

1 comment:

Bob Ignizio said...

Yeah, it was pretty bad. It had pretensions to being on some sort of 'Twilight Zone' type social commentary level, but lacked all the things that made even the most absurd TZ premises palatable, like good writing, top notch acting, and a firm grasp on exactly what it was trying to say.

This one wants to have it both ways - some sort of cautionary anti-violence message on the one hand, and on the other it gives us scenes where the "bad" people get killed and we're supposed to cheer. But as you point out, even on that level it falls flat because it doesn't go all the way.

The only thing I enjoyed about the movie were the performances by Hawke and the guy who played the rich kid gang leader, because both of them seemed to realize they were in a bad movie and decided, what the hell, let's go completely over the top.

Sad to think this is getting a sequel while so many other potentially good scripts go unmade, but that's the biz.