Directed by: James DeMonaco
Produced by: Michael Bay
Sebastien Kurt Lemercier
Screenplay by: James DeMonaco
Starring: Ethan Hawke
Music by: Nathan Whitehead
Cinematography by: Jacques Jouffret
Editing by: Peter Gvozdas
Studio(s): Platinum Dunes
Media Rights Capital
Why Not Productions
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release date(s): May 2, 2013 (United States, Stanley Film Festival)
May 31, 2013 (United Kingdom & Ireland)
June 7, 2013 (United States)
Running time: 85 minutes
Country: United States
Production budget: $3 million
Box office revenue (as of publication): $87, 043, 336
Well, it seems that my little Halloween errand of watching specifically horror movies has gone a bit belly up, for I haven't watched that many, so the fact is is that I am going to bump them over to the month of November. After this review, I will do a review of the month for October (in terms of overall quality, it's the best month I've had so far this year), and proceed on with great diligence to the task ahead of my articles on Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. As I've said before, I'm gonna be spicing this blog up a bit, so keep your eyes posted!
(Those are getting harder to write all the time: it's like I'm starting to jinx them) So, today's movie up for review is The Purge, a horror movie released earlier in the year that made $87 million off of it's $3 million. Going in, the hooker for me was definitely the central concept (more of which in synopsis), which sounds interesting on paper, but what's not so interesting is the fact that the film was produced by Platinum Dunes, a production company that don't have a track record for making great horror movies but instead taking the ideas from them, remaking them dirt cheap and getting a big cash profit off of them. I personally am dreading their upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Synopsis time: the year is 2022, with the United States having become 'a nation reborn' with crime and unemployment at an all-time low, a phenomenon attributed to the eponymous Purge, an annual twelve-hour period during which all criminal activity is deemed legal. Ethan Hawke plays James Sandin, a wealthy home security salesman who lives in a well-off area in San Francisco, California, along with his wife Mary (Lena Headey) and their two children, Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder). However, things go a bit awry, when during their lockdown for The Purge, Zoey's older boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) has snuck into the house, and Charlie lets a homeless man (Edwin Hodge) asking for help into the house. A group of Purgers led by a polite man in a business suit (Rhys Wakefield) show up the house, demanding that they return to them the homeless man, or their house and they themselves will become part of The Purge. Voulez-vous?
Starting with the good here, I've already mentioned it but I'll go into detail about the fact that I like the central concept of The Purge. The concept harks back to a time in the late 1960s/1970s when horror filmmakers like Tobe Hooper, George Romero, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg and John Carpenter were making nasty little low-budget movies that were intensely political and a reflection of the times around them. The Purge's central concept challenges us with a simple but effective moral quandary, played out by the familial interactions and whether or not The Purge is indeed a legitimate catharsis for Americans or if there is something very amiss. Furthermore, although I don't think it's a perfect performance in either capacity (more of which later), I have to express some sort of admiration for writer-director James DeMonaco for actually trying to make an intelligent horror movie that expresses something above and beyond a cheap scare. Don't get me wrong, I love horror movies, but I think that DeMonaco shows more respect for the genre and it's capabilities than most. Also, in his debut as a DP, Jacques Jouffret, who has worked as a camera operator on numerous films of Platinum Dunes cohort Michael Bay, gives the film an interesting array of lighting techniques. On the one hand, it has this sheen that empathises the wealth and good-living lifestyles of it's protagonists, but at various points the movie is well-lit in near darkness, something which is balanced out very well in that the atmosphere is retained while you are still able to get what is going on. The best thing about The Purge as a whole though are the actors playing the family. Adelaide Kane and Max Burkholder are really good as the children, and Lena Headey is convincing as ever as Mary, especially in putting over the moral argument of the film, but the big land of the film is Ethan Hawke. Despite always being an understated actor and a great screen presence, Hawke is at the right age to play the part of Sandin and is nothing if not perfect for the role. The position he is in in the story means that he is the one who does most of the basil exposition. He does it well, and because his character has made the decision to endorse The Purge and reap the financial benefits of it, Hawke has the tough job to pull off of a guy trying to convince himself of his own bullshit as the sanctuary he has built around him and his family, ultimately an illusion, comes crashing down because of the world he and many others of his kind have made reality. It is through Ethan Hawke that we are able to ascertain all these ideas of good and evil, the potential monstrousness of humanity and what have you, and his performance here is the highlight of the movie, not unlike Woody Harrelson last year in Rampart, an Atlas carrying the celestial sphere upon his shoulders.
Now, while I do hold a sort-of admiration for The Purge because it is a horror movie that is about people and tries to something, ultimately in execution I feel it is not as successful as is intended. As I perhaps indicated earlier, while DeMonaco attempts to hark towards the tradition of social horror films, it is nowhere near as pertinent in achieving it's aims as something like Night Of The Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Shivers etc. Also, a lot has been made in the press about the film's violence, in particular I'd like to point you towards an Observer article by Rex Reed entitled Brainless Brutality. Not to be au contraire, but I feel personally that they didn't go far enough. There is something about it that feels restrained, as though the message is being suffocated by the cliches and predictabilities Platinum Dunes want to fulfil their production quotas. It's a shame, because I think that the right direction for this to go would be along the lines of 1972's The Last House On The Left, a movie of great savagery but of a pertinent social message, making the movie on the fly as opposed to operating under the banner of Platinum Dunes. At risk of sounding like a nostalgist, but there was a time whenever movies could genuinely shock, stir up controversy and still contain an important message. I can't remember a horror movie that felt really dangerous. It's has been six long years since The Mist and The Orphanage came out around the same time, and five since the last horror masterpieces in Let The Right One In and Martyrs, so please excuse the rant, but I expect more! Another issue with The Purge is the 'original' score by Nathan Whitehead. It's interesting that given his previous work in video games, a medium that requires a good bit of incidental music, that the incidental music in this movie is some of the most turgid and uninspired I've heard this year. I make no bones about my hypersensitive hearing and about how it has effect on my judgements, but at what point did it become acceptable to just roll out the same tired aural cliches over and over, nigh on repeat? It's like "yes, I see the strange person on the camera, I don't need the volume cranked up to eleven in order to establish a credible level of tension!" Whitehead has just taken the worst cliche book of horror movie scoring and just copied it out near word-for-word, and as much as I think the movie as a whole is compromised, Whitehead's loathsome score is enough to give someone with my strange sensitivities a tin ear.
The Purge has it's problems. It's a movie that for me doesn't go far enough in pushing its social message, feels compromised, and is quashed and undercut by a horrendous score from Nathan Whitehead. However, despite these issues, it's a relatively serviceable horror movie. I admire writer-director James DeMonaco for actually trying to do something in delivering a horror movie with a social message. Furthermore, it's well-shot and the acting, particularly that of Ethan Hawke, is of a quality standard, and this elevates what would be a banal genre movie into a decent watch.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.6/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Buzzin' (voracious activity abound!)