Posts Tagged ‘The Purge’

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Regular readers around these parts probably figured it was only a matter of time before I got around to casting my supposedly critical eye on writer/director James DeMonaco’s summer 2016 release The Purge : Election Year given that I had generally good things to say about the first two films in this so-called “evolving franchise,” but seeing as how I never got around to catching it while it was playing in theaters, you fine folks are stuck with a “better late than never” appraisal since I just got it on DVD (a “bare-bones” rental DVD, I hasten to add, so I’m afraid I can’t discuss whatever extras the “real” disc might offer) from Netflix the other day and gave it a watch last night. There’s a better than good chance that many of you reading this have probably already seen it, I suppose, but what the heck — I’ve got a few things to say about it regardless of whether or not you’ve already had a chance to form your own opinion.

First off, let’s be perfectly honest — despite the wrinkle of having this story center on the desperate struggle for survival of anti-Purge presidential candidate Senator Charlie Roan (played by Elizabeth Mitchell), this is pretty much the “taking it to the streets” premise of 2014’s The Purge : Anarchy all over again, but frankly the tight, insular, single-location setting of DeMonaco’s first flick was probably a more successful conceit in terms of exploiting a concept like this to its fullest. I also find it highly absurd that the so-called “New Founding Fathers Of America” would allow an opposition candidate like Senator Roan to rise to prominence in the first place since they seem like an outright fascist outfit, but whatever. We’ll just file that under “Requiring Greater Suspension Of Disbelief Than Most” and move on from there.

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Besides, just because they didn’t try to kill her before doesn’t meant they’re not going to give it their level best come Purge Night. Our one-woman resistance force starts out with only her loyal bodyguard, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) for protection, but in fairly short order they’re joined by tough-but-kindly deli owner Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson), his protege who operates a mobile triage unit (or, if you prefer simplicity, an ambulance), Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel), and his principled-but-quiet part-time (I’m assuming, at any rate) employee, Marcos (J.J. Soria). And that’s not all — after a few near-death skirmishes, our ragtag rebels are joined by a decidedly less ragtag, and considerably larger, band of rebels who are determined to do considerably more than help Charlie win the election, they’re out to guarantee her victory by assassinating her NFFA-endorsed opponent.

Cue some pretty heavy moralizing of the “if-we-kill-him-we’re-no-better-than-they-are” variety that grates almost instantly and infects an otherwise enjoyable-if-predictable ultraviolent romp with an unwelcome strain of ineffective and largely redundant earnestness. We already know this whole “Purge thing” is some sick and evil shit, after all, we don’t need to have that viewpoint amplified in stereo.

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Are you getting the distinct impression that I was decidedly less impressed with The Purge : Election Year than previous entries in this series? Well, you’re exactly right — most of the principal cast turn in competent (if unmemorable) performances, and DeMonaco hasn’t lost his flair for for visceral, bloody, dystopian action, but it really does feel like this premise has been stretched as far as it can possibly go, if not a bit further. And that’s probably this flick’s most glaring and irredeemable flaw — it’s not especially bad (or good) when taken on its own merits, but it’s what it’s not that’s actually of much more concern than what it is.

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Ya see, The Purge : Election Year plays out like nothing so much as a natural conclusion to a trilogy. Not a particularly inspired conclusion, mind you (and the whole thing probably seemed considerably more relevant before the real election validated the absurd in ways no fiction could even dream of), but at least a logical one. Except it’s not. DeMonoaco is already at work on a fourth flick, and that relegates this one from the role of “big finale” to that of “mediocre stopgap measure.” I’ll be the first to admit that it’s blatantly unfair to hold the fact that there’s a future installment coming in this series against the present one, but them’s the breaks, I guess : if this had been the end of the road, it would have been essential viewing for hard-core Purge fans, at least, if no one else, but as things stand, shit — it turns out it’s one that even they can skip.

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Writer/director James DeMonaco’s The Purge was one of those flicks that came out of nowhere and impressed me (and its financial backers, given its surprise box-office success) last year,  so it’s actually good to see a sequel not only come out, but come out so soon after the original, given that DeMonaco is still at the helm and probably hasn’t had much time to second-guess what made his first film work and is therefore still sort of on the same “creative hot streak,” so to speak, that started this whole ball rolling — and now  that The Purge : Anarchy has met with essentially the same strong response at the nation’s ticket windows that its predecessor did, odds seem pretty good that a third installment will be out by roughly this time next year, and as long as DeMonaco remains in the director’s chair, I’ll be there for that one, as well.

Yup, as if you couldn’t guess by now, I enjoyed the second chapter in this safe-to-now-call-it-a-franchise quite a bit, not only because it builds upon the unpleasant socio-political ramifications of the first, but takes the action — quite literally — out onto the streets, and away from the gated suburban subdivisions of the original, which results in something of a loss in terms of the claustrophobic atmosphere the prior movie had, sure, but DeMonaco more than makes up for that by expanding his story’s scope while deepening it at the same time. The end result is that The Purge : Anarchy is every bit as compelling and immediate as its celluloid progenitor (if not moreso), but the stakes feel even higher this time around.

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Most of the proceedings in this sophomore outing take place outside, on the decidedly savage streets of an unnamed American city on the night of the sixth annual “all laws are suspended” shindig known as the titular Purge, where a series of accidents of fate have brought together a rag-tag group of wannabe-survivors under the tenuous and unwanted (at least as far as he himself is concerned) leadership of a guy named Leo who was apparently a military or police sergeant at  one point and is playing it pretty close to the vest as to why he’s out and about on the most dangerous night of the year. His charges consist of a newly-homeless mother-daughter team (played by Zoe Soul and Carmen Ejobo, respectively) and a couple at a — let’s call it transitional — stage in their relationship whose care broke down (portrayed by Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez). All the various players do right by their characters, but it’s Frank Grillo who really shines as Leo — he’s got natural “leading man action hero” charisma and bad-assness to spare, to the extent that I honestly have to wonder why he’s never been given center stage like this before.

Rounding out the cast is Michael K. Williams as Carmelo, a Black Panther-type urban paramilitary guerrilla who is the unofficial head honcho of a growing anti-Purge, anti-New Founding Fathers resistance movement. Carmelo’s doing his level best to educate the public to the fact that this whole nightmare scenario is basically the Dead Kennedys’ “Kill The Poor” come to life, and while he only appears in one scene as himself (so to speak), video images of his revolutionary (and entirely sane) message make their presence felt at several intervals throughout the course of events here.

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Also figuring into the ebb and flow are a “safe house” that turns out to be a whole lot less safe than anticipated, roaming armored battle-trucks cruising the streets for easy pickings, hard financial realities that force loving parents to sell themselves to the economic upper-crust as human sacrifices in order to earn enough cash to support families that they will never see again because, hey, they’ll be fucking dead, a nauseating “victim auction,” and, finally,  a “most dangerous game”-style human hunting scenario. All fairly compelling, dramatic stuff that DeMonaco and his no-name cast bring to life with considerable aplomb.

Beyond the well-realized and tense horrific action, though, it’s in the area of drawing obvious parallels to the real world that The Purge : Anarchy  stands out from the crowded genre pack. I hope I’m not blowing anyone’s illusions of how the world actually works here  too much, but despite the fact that outlets such as Fox “news” will scream “class warfare” every time somebody proposes hiking the top income tax rate by a couple of measly percentage points, it’s the rich — specifically the astronomically rich — that have been waging (and, sadly, winning) a very aggressive sort of slow-burn class war against the rest of us for decades now. What? You thought all those public service cutbacks, welfare and unemployment benefits trims, reductions in public education spending, spiraling student loan and health care costs, and busting up of unions was just a coincidence? At the same time massive corporate tax breaks are touted as being the “solution” to our economic woes? Oh, have I got a bridge to sell you.

The Purge : Ananrchy, like its fore-runner, simply removes all of  the intentionally-choreographed pretense obfuscating these issues in the world today. This is precisely the sort of scenario that the ruling elites want — they just don’t have the balls to come out and hack you to death with a machete themselves, and would rather have their paid lackeys in government do the job for them by killing us all off on the installment plan. That DeMonaco is managing to get away with laying their scheme this bare is pretty cool — but then, I’m sure the reason our ruling corporate overlords don’t have too much objection to this is because they own the studio that’s raking in the bucks off these flicks, so hey, it’s all good with them.

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My only real problem with this film, truth be told, is its title — the vilification of anarchism,  and even of the concept of anarchy itself, is getting pretty tedious, and it strikes me that if folks really understood that anarchy means a society not just without government, but without bosses, rulers, or power over others of any kind — be it governmental, corporate, religious, you name it — we might come to see it as a potential solution to the very real socio-economic “purge” that is going on around us. I admit that’s a pretty small bone I’m picking, though, and that beyond that, DeMonaco is to be congratulated for producing yet another tightly-paced, fraught-with-peril-at-every-turn horror/thriller/sci-fi/action movie hybrid that has the added advantage of actually being amazingly relevant. Definitely a very strong contender for the title of summer’s best movie.

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Before you say it, trust me, I already know — I’m pretty late to the party with this one. Anybody who was likely to see writer/director James DeMonaco’s The Purge in theaters (and apparently that’s a big bunch of “anybodys,” since the film did quite well and a sequel has already been announced for January 2015) has already done so, which means that most folks who end up reading this will be doing so either in advance of, or upon, its home video release, but what can I say? I just saw it today (at the last place in town it’s still playing), and I like to write about a movie when it’s still relatively fresh in what passes for my mind.

And truth be told, The Purge offers viewers a lot to think about. I know, I know — that sounds well-nigh impossible for a flick that’s come from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production house, but nevertheless, there you have it.

In a way, too, my late timing in getting around to this one is actually kind of fortuitous — I know, I know, I would say that —simply because I think this is a movie that takes on greater import in the wake of the ludicrous acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s cold-blooded murderer (and self-appointed vigilante guardian), George Zimmerman. And before you accuse me of bringing that whole subject up again too soon after my last rant about it during my Pacific Rim review the other day, please allow me to explain —

The basic gist here, as you’re probably already well aware, is that in the year 2022 some unnamed right-wing faction has taken over the US government and has adopted the most draconian measure for dealing with homelessness and unemployment one can imagine — they’ve instituted a program called, you guessed it, The Purge, which legalizes murder for one night a year. Okay, sure, they’re small-“d” democratic about it and anyone’s free to kill anyone else regardless of race, creed, color, or economic class, but you know how something like this is bound to play out — those with enough money to arm themselves to the teeth are going to go after the low-hanging fruit that can’t afford to do so.

At this point you could be forgiven for thinking that this flick sounds like it could join the likes of ConvoyAmazing Grace, and Eye Of The Tiger (to name just a few) in the wildly disparate movies-derived-from-songs sub-category, with the tune in question here being the old Dead Kennedys classic “Kill The Poor,” and ya know, I do hope that Jello Biafra and co. are getting some kind of royalties cut here, but in truth The Purge goes about its political messaging a bit less directly than DK did, and its populist, horror/SF-crowd-pleasing instincts certainly leave it open to an entirely apolitical reading if one so chooses.

But that’s not how we do things here, is it? The gated “community” that wealthy alarm-system salesman protagonist James Sandin (played by Ethan Hawke, who’s enjoying something of a surprise career resurgence in recent years as, of all things, a genre star), his wife Mary (Lena Headey), and their two kids reside in is essentially exactly the same as most of the atrocious “secure” compounds that protect the privileged from the society-wide results of their greed and avarice that we find littering the soul-dead landscape of suburban America today, the reticence to help a downtrodden person  (in this case a black homeless guy who’s also, at least if we’re to go by the dog tags he’s wearing, apparently a veteran) on Sandin’s part is all too believable, the silent acquiescence of an entire nation to acts of barabarism is too obvious a parallel to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to ignore, and watching all the rich motherfuckers turn on each other when the shit hits the fan later in the movie isn’t so different than what they tend to do when they all-too-occasionally get called on the carpet for their reckless financial shenanigans and start selling each other out to protect their own asses from litigation or worse.

I’ve certainly seen and heard reviewers describe the root premise of The Purge as being “unrealistic,” and express the opinion that, no matter how bad things got, we as a people would never condone such a thing, much less embrace it with open arms as the people in the film have done, but when you honestly look at the way society’s headed, how “far-fetched” is it really? America is inexorably bifurcating into a nation of a few “haves” and a great many “have-nots,” with inner-city neighborhoods where Purge-like activities play out on an almost  nightly basis existing at a “safe” distance from people who have retreated behind walls, fences, and armed checkpoints that we laughably describe as “visitor’s entrances” in order to shield their families from the realities of the system they’re profiting from.  And now look — even if you do manage to venture behind those barricades, unarmed and minding your own business, you’ll be summarily executed by a racist thug who won’t even be sent to jail for killing you in a fight he started (see, you knew I would get back to that). The only thing I find “outlandish” about this flick is that the government has been so egalitarian in who it’s decided is legal to kill for one night — even if , as mentioned, in actual practice it’s going to end up more often than not being exactly the people they want dead.

The Purge was an interesting and topical film, with more layers of subtext than than your average dozen horror flicks combined, when it hit theaters six or eight weeks back, but in light of recent tragic events it’s become, dare I say, essential viewing. My hope is that it wakes people up to the dangers, and the inhumanity, of the rapidly (and radically) economically-segregated society we’re becoming — but given that one of the previews before the movie was for an obviously-sanitized, fawning new biopic of multi-millionaire asshole Steve Jobs, I’m afraid it might be too late already.