Comfortable and Furious

The Purge

Rated R: 85 minutes

Fellow cinevores:

Do you have an urge you wanna purge?

I want to tell you all about it. Let me scream and shout it.

I was hoping for ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ with yuppies. I got ‘The Panic Room’ with a larger kill count (and lesser camera work).

Owing a heavy debt to the action satire of John Carpenter’s golden decade, The Purge depicts a post-revolutionary America in 2022. For one night out of every year, laws are suspended and there are no emergency services. The world is given to free market social Darwinism turned up to 11. And in this world, we have the Generic Family. Excuse me, the Sandins. Patriarch Sandin, played by Ethan Hawke, is a professional security system salesman. He’s supported by Housewife Sandin (Lena Headey) and nettled by Schoolgirl Sandin (Adelaide Kane) and puzzled by Precocious Nerd Sandin (Max Burkholder). They settle down in their gated community for a night of calculus homework and voyeuristic viewing of security camera footage.

Unfortunately Precocious, in a foolish moment of humanity, gives shelter to a fleeing black youth (Tony Oller) who is the designated prey of the local preparatory academy glee club (led by Rhys Wakefield). Darn you, Precocious Nerd! Look at the predicament you’ve gotten us into! (Cue the laugh track for another episode of ‘That’s So Purge’ this fall on CBS). Ok, that’s the plot.

Humans like siege movies. Chalk it up to 4000 years of vestigial city state living. We like movies about a small family unit in a fortified emplacement struggling to survive against superior numbers. And of course, the drama is the drama of social disintegration; the atomism of the family unit eventually cresting to a family that stays together by slaying together. Killing looters is apparently excellent family therapy.

This film has some terrific beats interspersed amongst formulaic pablum. One action sequence almost rises to the heights of Carpenter or McTiernan. This is leavened by two much reliance on Shyamalan style focus cuts. If sophomore director James DeMonaco had been better at establishing the initial layout of the house and the equipment at Ethan Hawke’s disposal, he might have really had something. As it stands, he has some good flashes, especially in the second act. I sense the film may owe a slight dramatic debt to Amiri Baraka.

Ethan Hawke: Once again, he’s got charisma and presence but not depth. I don’t know if it’s the material or him.

If I can serve the reader at all, it is by parsing the subtexts of the propaganda. All cinema has an agenda, even if it is only the agenda of good box office. This film is centrist propaganda.

Rhys Wakefield, doing a performance that mixes 6 parts Patrick Bateman to one part Max Fischer, could have been a good antagonist if he was given more to do. He manages to get a few good lines in. Likewise, Tony Oller showed some glimmer of talent. But it’s Ethan’s show kids; the script doesn’t give enough for any exciting performances.

Other Aspects: I liked Edward Tise did with the sound effects. Lots of good acoustics, not to many booms, crisp and shocking sound. The soundtrack was forgettable Hans Zimmer-esque strings. The photography didn’t really carry too many good shots beyond the surveillance camera montage at the beginning.

I’d like to kvetch about a central failing of this film’s plot: for a supposed expert in security systems, Ethan Hawke sure knows very little about redundancies. Or backup systems. Or basic emergency preparation.

Psychosocial Subtexts: Civil war is the zeitgeist of our era. Every summer brings a new capital to burn. It’s the desire that both left and right are wary to speak for fear of who is listening (and rightly so- hello all you NSA wiretappers!).

If I can serve my readers in any means, it is by deciphering the manipulations of the cinema that is thrown at you. All films have an agenda, if only the agenda of good gross earnings. The Purge is centrist propaganda, a prism- you can project that it depicts a world where either Occupy or The Tea Party prevailed. The central message of this film is: white suburban voters, don’t try to change the system. Because any system other than the status quo is inevitably worse.

The elite have always carried a fear of anarchy nearest to their hearts; perhaps it is because they are usually cheaters themselves, and anarchy portends an unsustainable world of cheaters. For the relentless annals of bastardry to re-assert their cruelties, the must re-iterate the myth of the Hobbesian nature of man; to keep their shabby carnival capitalism solvent, the masses must fear the masses more than the exploitation of the masters. And this is what the Purge advances.

This film can also be taken as a logical realization of disaster capitalism. Why wait for the economic opportunities of the next hurricane when you can just schedule a yearly riot? As an added bonus, the night of anarchy keeps the coffers of the security industrial complex warm even in the years of lean governmental pork. Like I said, this film is a prism where you can glean vindication from the rebuke of the ideology you abhor.

Dystopia is a genre of satire where you grant the desire of a faction you loathe in abundance. It’s like forcing children to smoke an entire pack of cigarettes at once. Here, you Randroidpencildicks, you armchair militia types, heck you Cascadian crustpunks also- want to see what anarchy is like? Have a good serving. I especially like the subtler critique of the film- that ultimately, anarchy would serve the 1% better than the middle class. The Most Dangerous Game as a team sport!

Conclusions: There’s a lot of hallways that this movie briefly opened, but didn’t explore, instead descending to the predictable. I mean that both in terms of the ambiguous layout of this mansion- possibly Mr. Sandin’s business secret is that he designs Tardis houses, larger on the inside than the outside. I also mean in terms of all the things this film almost was but chose not to be. Better things, like: Die Hard in a mansion; Home Alone with a homicidal family; Funny Games with greater class consciousness; Dutchman with more action sequences; Escape from Orange County (suburban sequel to Escape from New York). DeMonaco’s film brushes against some great ideas, but fails to focus or pursue any of them, leaving a digestible summer horror movie instead.

Fair Value of The Purge: $8.50. Reasonable suspense, some good acts, gratification of class-based strafelust.

Until our next WTF Barbeque,

With the pretension of a marxist in Blackhawk CA,

G. W. Devon Pack



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