Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Purge

Well dear readers after a long hiatus I come back to you now at the opening of the summer blockbuster season. I start though with a film that many have been writing about in the corners of the net I visit, and that film is The Purge. This is the first horror film of the season that I've looked at and the first I've seen in a long time in theatres, so to do this review I will be doing it in the traditional review style and examining it from the perspective of a home defense analysis, since this movie is about a family supposedly prepared for a home invasion.

Now without further ado let's dive in and look at the interesting horror/thriller, The Purge!

The Purge is set in America in the near future of the year 2022, and is 'a nation reborn' and having had a new Constitution put down by the 'New Founding Fathers' who seem to run the country (who also appear exempt from the Purge) and in this new nation the pent up rage and anger at the world is unleashed annualy on a night known as The Purge where all crime (though that appears to exclude political assassination) is legal for twelve hours and all emergency medical, fire, and police services are suspended. It would also seem that since everything on the night of the purge is legal then you can't sue anyone for damages incurred because of a person's actions on the purge.

The film though, starts out showcasing a number of violent crimes and murders being caught on 'purge cams' and showcased to the audience with violent murders seeming the norm for the purge and roving death/rape gangs killing people all across America. There is also the very casual reference to people going 'hunting' on the purge night (which is heavily implied to be hunting other people) and is evidenced by both shots of people armed to the teeth wandering the streets and the films primary antagonists being a roving gang of masked students carrying weapons looking to kill a homeless guy.

Actually they almost look as though they're trying to offer you a copy of the Watchtower.

Now the movie seems to be trying to shove some political commentary into the mix by taking pains to point out how affluent the main characters are and having various radio announcers comment on how the purge seems to target the poor and homeless who are less capable of defending themselves, while others defend that as a 'natural course of life' or a 'survival of the fittest' style of living. In fact in the opening shots the Sandin's wealth is commented on quite a bit by other characters on how they can afford to defend their home and are in fact wealthy because they have a business centered around the selling of home security systems which protect homes and deter maurauders. More on the home security issue and social commentary later.

Questions of that aside the film introduces us to the Sandin family who have a very typical suburban life with a stay at home mother, a teenaged daughter and a younger son who has questions about the nature of the purge and whether it is a good thing or not.

Here we are clearly establishing an obvious suburban family with obvious issues as the teenaged daughter is dating an older boy and is very rebellious, the son looks as though he is going through coming of age issues and the parents are having vague and unspecified reactions in dealing with them.

Now we get a clear family dynamic as the father James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is shown being personable for the neighbors while the mother Mary (Lena Headly of Game of Thrones and Dredd fame) deals with the kids while having a conversation with her clearly not psychotic and jealous neighbor Grace (Arija Bareikis) who comments on how all their success has paid for a new addition on their large home. This is interuppted by shots of Zoey Sandin (Adelaide Kane) and her boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) getting frisky and talking about their relationship issues.

The opening of course establishes the setting of the Purge as well as the house of the Sandin's which will be the main focus of the plot as a typical siege style film is. However almost immediately the film begins introducing a number of painfully obvious Chekov's guns in Zoey and Henry's relationship issues as a point of contention between the father and the boyfriend, the fact that Grace seems like a babbling psychopath who seems incapable of taking the wide eyed crazy look of her face while making passive aggressive comments about the Sandins wealth and home, and that the son Charles (Max Burkholden) has a little remote control robot named Timmy which has a laundry list of useful functions such as night vision, being able to play music, use a camera to spy on people, ect. This of course makes a number of upcoming plot twists rather predictable.

Now the siren sounds for the Purge to begin reminding everyone of the rules (no government officials of Class 10 can be harmed and Class 4 level weapons are allowed) and the Sandin's immediately lock down their house (which all it seems to involve is the lowering of a number of heavy metal plates over doors and windows and Mr. Sandin getting a snub nosed pistol from the gun safe in the ludicrously badly secured security room) as Charlie contemplates why they don't participate in the Purge. Mary then notes that contrary to Grace's previous statements her house is hosting it's annual Purge party (which seems to be a nice little ice cream social with guns).

Then the drama begins as it is discovered as Henry has snuck back into the house and a bloodied man is seen running down the street screaming for help. Charlie immediately takes pity on him and opens the doors to let him in before his father can lock them and keep him out, right afterwards Henry convinces Zoey he wants to talk to Mr. Sandin. It immediately becomes clear Henry only wants to talk using 9mm bullets as he tries to kill James with a concealed pistol but is a terrible shot and is killed by an abdominal wound when James fires back. The Bloody Stranger (as he is billed in the credits and played by Edwin Hodge from Red Dawn) disapears in the confusion and hides somewhere in the massive house.

Meanwhile a roving murder gang of well dressed white kids appears wearing masks hunting the stranger whom they refer to as a homeless parasite piece of filth. He is their target for this years purge and since he has taken refuge in their house they offer the Sandin's a deal, give them the hobo by an unspecified time before their means of breaking in arrive or they will bust in and murder everyone. Then, inexplicably, they cut power to the house.

Because it's so much easier killing people when you can't see anything

Here the social commentary bludgeons you over the head as the roving murder gang is made of well dressed students (who are apparently only wearing masks to be terrifying rather than avoid repurcussions) who are chasing after a black homeless man shown wearing dog tags and weilding a combat knife. Clearly America before this was such a terrible place that it must now be preferable for the rich to hunt the poor with impunity. You can tell that the film is trying for some commentary on the American lifestyle, how there is a divide between rich and poor and even the divides across neighborhoods as success and wealth collide with petty jealousy, now instead of merely making snarky comments and spreading malicious rumours about your neighbors, you can kill them to vent your frustration at your own inadequecies!

That might not necessarily be the point of the film however, but it is maddeningly unclear what kind of message the film is trying to send. The rich want to hunt the poor? That man doesn't have to act like animals in order to vent its frustration? That if you cave to social pressure you become that which you disdain? Now on the last one the Sandins nearly do as James almost tortures the hobo into submission so he can turn him over to the murder gang. Mary also displays that when in the last act after they are saved by the very homeless man they are originally trying to hand over to the murder gang when her neighbors show up and save them only to try murdering them because they are jealous of the Sandins wealth.

However, here I have to point out one issue which ruins any suspense the film might have, the fact that while James Sandin sells a security system that is supposed to keep people out, right before the crazy kids break in he points out a number of rather obvious flaws in the system that is supposed to defend his house. Now that wouldn't be so bad if the gang set out to kill them had actually used any of those weaknesses, instead they simply rip the armored plates out of the house and waltz inside like they own the place.

Thank God I had the foresight to install this useless system

What follows is a number of unexciting fight scenes where the Sandins have to either defend themselves or hide from the insane student murderers. Now there is one very well done scene in here, a piece where James has to fight off three students who he catches in the game room of the home. It's actually fairly fun to watch if only because you can scream 'yes!' as you see him gun down or bludgeon mask wearing crazies. There is also a blink and you miss it moment where he sees one of the kids he's killed not wearing a mask and gets a look of remorse on his face, which contributes nothing to the film as he then shoots their bodies to make sure they are dead.

Now the film itself is described as social commentary/horror thriller. It fails at both of those since it sends a garbled message about social values and has people forming roving murder gangs because why not? Seeing a trailer before this film came out I actually had a lenghty discussion with friends about what I would be doing in the Purge. We all honestly decided we'd rather hunker down and protect ourselves, or at least move countries to escape such weirdness. That and roving murder gangs seems unlikely since it would probably be more like large scale riots every night with an increased murder rate as people plot out murders for that time of year.

Aside from that the film wasn't even very scary. There was no suspense as characters were saved at the last moment from dying or being wounded, the plot twists were tragically predictable, and the fact that they purposely dehumanized the antagonists made them much less scary than they could have been. I probably would have been more scared had the murder gang simply shown up in their school uniforms and declared their intent to kill everyone inside very casually and for no reason. Then we have the neighbors who show up and with absolutely no emotion kill all the students before trying to kill the Sandins themselves. If you didn't see that coming well clearly you weren't paying attention.

The film them ends on a downer note as the siren signalling the end of the Purge sounds and emergency sirens sound in the distance as presumably police, fire, and ambulances pour in to ensure that the people participating actually stop and to help those still alive. The Sandins then realize their jealous neighbors are out to kill them and hate them, and the bloodied hobo walks off into the morning.

All in all the film was a rather big let down which could have been done way better. I wasn't scared at all and saw the film as predictable and bland. There was no solid acting, but I can't blame the actors for that (barring Arija Bareikis who couldn't wipe that psychotic look off her face for five seconds) since the script was weak and garbled with contradictory purposes.

So I'd reccomend people purge this film from their to watch list and look for something more straight forward instead. I give the film 4/10 stars.

But now for the second part of the review as we examine the Sandin's so called security system!

Pictured: State of the art security
James Sandin is supposed to be a man whose company thrives on selling people state of the art security systems to protect them and their homes from the violence of the purge. Sandin makes assurances to people that his system is good, his system is reliable, and that it will keep people safe from attack.

The fact that it fails to do that is the entire premise of the film ought to tell you something.

I understand personally that there is no fool proof defense system in the world, and I also understand that you can't protect your home from every conceivable threat there is but when your entire business runs around this kind of thing you should probably have a more realistic understanding of its strenghts and weaknesses.

For instance let's look at the defences of the house. They basically appear to be giant sliding metal plates which cover all the doors and windows making them essentially impenetrable. That's about it for the security system really. In fact other than this rather superficial and showy device the house has no other security features. No panic room in case the house is actually breached, and no interior system of defence.

In fact the family has no coherent plan in place of what to do if the unthinkable should happen, which considering the level of violence that takes place every year, is ludicrously short sighted!

In film when discussing the possibilities of whether they can defend the house James says testing has shown the system can stand up to attack 90% of the time, and that a determined attacker can get in through a number of ways (tunneling, smoking them out, devising a battering ram). Now to address each of those, tunneling is the most wildly impractical and unlikely to occur so not big deal there. Now setting fire to the house is a big issue so why a large and well stocked fire proofed panic room isn't a staple of the design is beyond me. Finally we have the issue of a battering ram. The plates seen in the film are very thick and they cover every easily enterable entrance and seem to slide down and lock in place from inside the house. It would take a very serious battering ram to smash its way through that!

However, in the film none of these items are used. Instead the roving gang uses a jeep with chains and cables to pull these plates off. Now where they attach the plates to the hooks and how they manage to pull them out of a shutter system inside the wall is beyond me, but that's just poor planning by the writers.

Now how the family reacts to the sudden storming of their home is even more inexplicable. Instead of trying to hold any specific point in the house, or even shooting to inconvenience the attackers while they come in, the family opts to let them just walk in the house and tries to hunt them down despite being outnumbered and seeming to not even know their own house that well. This is simply ludicrous as it gives the initiative to the attackers and doesn't stall for time, and since there is no saferoom/hardpoint for the family to defend it leaves them and their dependents horribly exposed.

When the family splits up and hides in ludicrous places in order to try and hunt down their hunters I just about gave up on the film entirely.

So in the home defence category not only is Mr. Sandin's business bad at what it does, but how the Sandin's survived so many years of purges is beyond me.

Until next time readers, until next time!

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