Review of “The Purge”

WARNING:“This post contains spoilers, if you haven’t seen the movie and are worried I might ruin your experience by giving away key plot points this is my way of telling you don’t read on.”

So as the title of this post suggests I saw “The Purge” last night (6/10/13). I had the pleasure of getting out to the recently renovated Webster AMC theater for the first time and it was quite nice. It’s remarkable how much better the movie theater experience is when you’re sitting on comfortable chairs that are made out of leather and recline to various positions. It may not seem like much to many of you but this is a giant leap above the terrible seating I’m used to from an unnamed theater I frequent. Sitting in those cushy leather chairs gives you a feeling of intimacy that is truly unique to the Webster theater.

***THIS IS THE PART WHERE I SPOIL THE FILM***

Okay, enough about the chairs; let’s talk film. I was super excited to see this film. I’m a big Ethan Hawke fan and really enjoy thrillers. I saw the trailer on youtube and I was intrigued by the plot. So this movie should have all the makings of a top 5 for me right? Wrong, completely wrong. The Purge is a film set in a dystopian America where on one night a year (march 21) murder and assault are legal. I found this idea intriguing; in the film crime rates were drastically reduced because people were able to “cleanse” themselves by participating in the purge.

As the film opens we follow Ethan Hawke as he takes business calls on his phone in his car and generally engages in what I would call “1950’s nuclear family dribble”. He has a pretty wife and two lovely (albeit a bit off) children and is the quintessential “father figure“. He comes home and his wife is making dinner and he brings in flowers, he asks the children about their day, he’s just a regular guy with two kids living in affluent suburbia. The flowers represent something different in the film but honestly it isn’t important enough to mention. I should mention that Ethan Hawke is playing a salesman for a company that helps to create security systems for this very night; and he is quite successful (a plot point that becomes significant later on). If you’ve seen the trailer you know that at one point in the night (after they have “locked down” the house) a person is allowed into the house from the outside.

And so begins the downward spiral of the films story arc. Really it all goes down hill as soon as the purge starts (the actual purge not the film itself, which started off quite promising). So we have the first wildcard thrown into the film; there is now a person in their house who they don’t know and don’t trust. A fair amount happens in the lead up to the great showdown but it really isn’t worth mentioning and is honestly not that interesting anyhow. This “great showdown” occurs when people who were involved in hunting this particular person allowed him to escape; whereupon he finds refuge in Ethans families home. The lead “bad guy” is played quite well by Rhys Wakefield; he reminded me of the lead antagonist in the film “Funny Games“. Until I looked it up I thought the two were one in the same (upper class white sociopath nothing new here).

As you can imagine the people who are trying to get into the house eventually do. I was speaking to a friend about this trope: “Good guys hide in various places while being chased by bad guys” which plays out in nearly almost every horror/thriller film. It’s a “cookie-cutter” motif that has grown a bit stale for me; sure the recipe may be altered but it comes out the same shape in the end. I would like to take a moment here to discuss another familiar trope that has become synonymous with movies I don’t enjoy: Deus Ex Machina. For those that don’t know Deus Ex Machina is,

… A plot device where by a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved, with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object. – Wikipedia

which was popularized by this dickhead:

Euripides
Euripides, king of plot devices I hate.

And used recently by this dickhead:

J. K. Rowling
J. K. Rowling

At least she has an excuse though: she’s writing CHILDREN’S BOOKS. So sure; a small baby Harry Potter can’t be killed by the greatest dark wizard ever. Big deal nobody bats an eye at that we’ll let that slide. But this shit is unacceptable.

There was a whole ass-load of Deus Ex Machina to go around in The Purge. So much so that I had already figured out the ending to the movie when I realized that the director was clearly unwilling to resolve key plot points and finish of key characters. I will take this time to say that I hate Deus Ex Machina. I hate that ridiculous contrived events occur in film and we as a society have come to accept this as “normal”. If films were anything like real life Deus Ex Machina would occur 1/1000 times instead of the 9/10 times it seems to. If I wanted to see things wrapped up in a pretty bows I’d create a pinterest account.

The character development that went into The Purge was lazy at best. The children are fairly soul-less and the only characters that have any real depth is the lead antagonist and Ethan Hawkes character. At no point did I really feel like I was worried about the families well being. The characters were so poorly developed that I didn’t care if they were killed off, I was almost rooting for at least one of the kids to die this way at least the other characters would be more driven. One might think that the man who was rescued would be flushed out a bit through the film, perhaps we learn he just lost his job and has fallen on hard times and that is why is he homeless. Perhaps he too had a wife and family at one point but fell from grace. Instead what we get is a guy who really adds little to nothing to the film. If they had removed his story arc entirely and it was just about jealous neighbors and neighborhood bandits trying to get into their home the movie would work just the same. I would even argue that the movie would be a bit better because it would elucidate the shortcomings of such a night. The violence would be more senseless and would be driven by jealousy and greed as opposed to some contrived story arc involving a homeless black guy being chased around by upper class white folk in masks… I know we’ve heard that one before but I just can’t place it… no matter.

My final grievance comes from the final ten minutes or so of the film which really turned me off to the whole thing. I long suspected that they would not kill the family and that there would be some intervention via Deus Ex Machina and lo and behold I was not mistaken. Much to my chagrin the movie ends with not one instance of Deus Ex Machina, but TWO INSTANCES OF DEUS EX MACHINA. The family is first rescued by their neighbors who not surprisingly also want the family dead. Their primary motivations are jealousy and greed. It was at this point where I thought to myself, “I bet that black guy pops up to save the day” and then POOF the black guy appears and rescues the family from the bitter and jealous neighbors. Why? Because of course he does; that’s why. Surely this movie would not have been complete without the inclusion of the magical negro character; he goes along so well with the other cliche devices that have littered this film.

Tl;dr: The purge was an exercise in familiar tropes with little to no imagination. What started as a promising tale of mayhem and anarchy quickly descended into a trip down memory lane full of old friends and over-used plot devices.

My verdict: Stay home and watch old episodes of Battlestar Galactica to purge the terrible aftertaste that this movie left in your mouth. Don’t bother.

 

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