On Second Thought: “The Purge”

Every film franchise has to start somewhere. Some begin quite well, and lead the way for what becomes a well done film series. Others are so-so, and some simply don’t take off. Some have an overall intriguing premise, but as things shift from one film to many, the need to keep things fresh and exciting takes center stage. By the third time out, how far will the series have strayed form the original and will it hurt the series as a whole?

The Universal Pictures film “The Purge”, is still one enjoyable film, but not as amazing as I recall it once being.

This horror film stars Ethan Hawke (upcoming films “The Magnificent Seven (2016)”, “In a Valley of Violence”), Lena Headey (“Game of Thrones”, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”), Adelaide Kane (“Reign”, “Realm (Short 2015)”), Max Burkholder (“Babysitter”, “Parenthood (2010 TV series)”), Edwin Hodge (upcoming “Six”, “The Purge: Election Year”), Tony Oller (“Relationship Status”, “Someone Like You (Short 2012)”), Rhys Wakefield (“House of Lies”, “Echoes of War”), Arija Bareikis (upcoming episodes “Power”, “Southland”), and Chris Mulkey (“Agent Carter”, “CSI: Cyber”).

The film is written and directed by James DeMonaco (“The Purge: Election Year”, “The Purge: Anarchy”).

The film originally opened on June 7, 2013.

Another weekend, another sequel. That’s all we seem to have this year, and it certainly seems more so with this last month and a half. While some of these sequels have me a bit more excited than others, I’m glad we’re all finally getting a break. Well, that is until the newest “Bourne” film comes out. Fucking sequels! With regards to this film and it’s latest sequel, I’m excited to be revisiting this film. I liked it a lot the first time, but sadly never got around to buying it, so finally getting the opportunity to watch it again just made it all the more exciting!

For me, the long and the short of this, which is what gets me through the door that much quicker, lies in the story. This is a world where one day a year it’s okay to commit crimes for 12 hours. It goes back to that idea I’m sure we’ve all had in some way, shape or form, but just laugh off as ridiculous and that of a joke being made. Here it’s reality. And it’s quite good. Every aspect is thought out. The level of detail is impressive. Couple this with the fact that you’re thrown quite quickly into the film’s story and you may as well have been living there. You know it all so well. It’s just another Annual Purge day.

But as this isn’t some kind of first person shooter, you’ve got to follow a specific set of characters. Enter Hawke, Headey, Kane, and Burkholder. They’re just a normal, rich family living in this new and twisted world. They’ve clearly grown accustomed to what this 12 hour period is going to be like. DeMonaco wasted no time through this first 20 to 25 minutes showcasing the family unit, that when it came time to see what they all do once lockdown occurred, it didn’t surprise me. Hawke’s working, Headey’s running on the treadmill, and the kid’s are being kids, so probably doing something stupid. All this seemed so normal, and routine, especially for this night, but I can imagine many evening’s like this. If that’s not character insight, I don’t know what is. It may not be much, or anything deep, but this isn’t that type of film, so it’s okay. You got enough, for now.

One of the most interesting things to come out of this film, but not totally surprising given the film’s plot, are the moral questions automatically raised, and those that are brought up throughout the run of the film.

Okay, let me take a moment, so I can get this off my chest, as it’s one of the few things that really makes this film not work. Some of the moral quandaries the characters face, either from the beginning of the film, as that’s how the character was designed, or during it, I find a bit too laughable. It’s just dumb and too convenient for the story.They live in this world, and it seems that they’ve grown accustomed to the proceedings (Headey’s character even says, “Just remember all the good the Purge does”.), yet only now they can’t handle the reality. Somehow, in this area, I just don’t buy it. It’s too… something.

Anyway. The moral questions are good. Who’d think, even with a way out there plot idea, there’d be any thought going on within a horror film? I certainly didn’t. Yet, there I was, watching this film again, and still wondering what would I do in this situation? I certainly wondered what the hell the characters were thinking, as it not only made little sense, but the choices and issues of morality were being brought up at terrible times. All Hawke is trying to do, is save his family. Apparently that’s wrong. I wanted to punch his children in the face for being dumb fucks. Hawke probably should’ve let Hodge kill his daughter, I would’ve been so easy to end the morality debates going on at the worst possible time.

A well thought out story idea, and meticulously thought out world, can only take you so far. If you don’t deliver on the genre elements, which is partly why those that watched at all chose to do so, then people will be really upset. So, what must be done to make this happen? A tight control on the thrills and suspense, some of which can be called horror. Before I go much further, I don’t call it that, as this film really only had a thriller vibe to it. Everything about it was more about building any and all suspense, and then releasing it at the moment, which revved up the energy and propelled you further through the plot.

Aiding heavily in this, are the creepy characters in masks, who decide to harass Hawke’s family, after his idiot son, who’s just now seemingly taking issue with the Annual Purge, let’s in a would be dead man. At this point, it’s difficult which parts to hail as suspense building, and which one’s to sort of roll your eyes at. It’s now become a home invasion film, especially after the killers in masks destroy the expensive security system that was in place, and well, invade. A lot of the suspense came in the form of the family hunting for Hodge, the would be dead man. The house these particular characters live in is just so huge, there’s so many hallways and places to hide, that he could be anywhere. The reason why it’s suspenseful, isn’t just this execution, including the way the film was shot, but the simple fact that we know nothing about Hodge’s character, other than he’s wanted dead. Burkholder took an unnecessary risk in letting this man in. Stupid child!

A bit later, the suspense shifts in a new direction. We’ve got the killers, I mean Purgers, (after all, all crime is legal for 12 hours, including murder), invading the house, and this is much more deadly cat and mouse game. Everyone is on the look out for someone else, whom they hope to kill. With the same house set up in play, but no security, the unexpected can happen at any moment. Bit by bit I found myself traveling down a hallway or through a room, unsure of what could happen, and when something didn’t I still couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief. Typically this is when some creepy mask covered Purger would enter from a broken door or window, but by first being creepy. Why do killers love to creep in places, especially behind you, before they enter and proceed with their goals? While I don’t understand this, it certainly made me feel uneasy when it worked.

I also applaud DeMonaco for this, as it gave the Purgers, except Wakefield’s character, which I’ll get to, as we saw his face, more personality. They weren’t just Purgers on some mindless killing spree, like any other killer in any other thriller or horror film would be, but they had personality. One Purger, skipped down a hallway. Another lurked and walked in such a manner that not only made it all the more frightening, but gave them character. It may not have been much, but it set them apart, just like the killers in “The Strangers”. Wakefield’s was frightening, but because of his specific mannerisms and way of dressing, you automatically learned so much. He didn’t have to do much else, but look creepy, but this is also on account of his face being seen. Sometimes it’s the little and everyday like things that makes a person all the more terrifying.

For a first film in a series that’s now got three films already, it’s not a bad one. It’s not as good as I thought it was, but it’s not a bad way to spend some time. It’s also not a bad film when you’re thinking about watching something refreshing and far more interesting than your standard horror or thriller film. There’s a certain level of intelligence in it, that it’s actually requiring more for you than most other film’s of this sort. Being an a passive viewer isn’t enough. The sidelines are closed. The film may have its flaws, but over time I’m sure some plot element will just work, that it’ll make the overall premise behind this series, work even better than the last time.

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