The Purge (2013)

The Purge (2013)

At Film Phage, we like it when a film has a lofty premise; something that at least attempts to distinguish it from the rest of the crowd. This is especially needed in the constantly stagnating “horror” genre. We’ve had found footage, gore-porn, LOUD NOISES and a host of other techniques attempt to make us squirm in our seats. But The Phage always stuggles… possibly because we have no emotions – we’re a cold, emotionless wretch destined to wander the Earth like some shambolic zombie-Phage. Or, it could be that no new “idea” has been that terrifying. Having said that, we do like a bit of sustained menace in our films… something to keep the tension up… so, is The Purge up to the task at hand? And just what do The Purge and The Phage have in common? Read on…

The Purge has a nice enough premise to it. By “nice”, I actually mean quite monstrous, but well thought up. Essentially, in the US of 2022, July 5th is Purge Day. Between 7pm and 7am, the residents of the US are free to commit any crime they like – murder, theft, mutilation… anything they like, and not be charged with a thing. It’s said that this is meant to “purge” people of their criminal urges and malicious intents. But don’t expect any help if you’re attacked; there’s no police, no ambulances and no assistance coming until 7am. The result? Super low unemployment and low crime rates. So, of course, the film is mainly set on the aforementioned night when it all kicks off…

The Purge (2013)

At its centre, we follow the Sandin family – clearly upper-middle class, successful and benefiting from the purge; mainly owing to James (Ethan Hawke), who sells the security systems that people come to rely on. So on lock down in 2022, it’s just him, his wife Mary (Lena Headey), and his two children Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane)… or so he thinks. But things certainly go awry when the young, morally conflicted Charlie sees a man pleading for help outside the shutters of the Sandin homestead. He decides to open the doors and let this stranger in… on a night when anything goes. Can the family remain so passive and not indulge in the orgy of violence that they’d ordinarily sit out of?

I genuinely like the concept. I think it’s got some lofty ambition and the social commentary runs through the entire film. What is the real reason for the purge: the release of hatred, or an excuse to kill the lower classes that can’t afford to lock themselves away? It’s an interesting question and I found myself enthralled by the developing tale… up until the end of the first act. After this point, it all became a little too… dull.

The Purge (2013)

The opening is strong, and I definitely bought into the premise, but once we get to the moment where the monumentally dumb Charlie lets a stranger into his house, the film started to fall apart a little. We have some mild tension creep in here, then the threat level is elevated somewhat when others come looking for the sheltered man, but the film never induces terror. I’d be hard-pushed to call it a “moderate level of threat” to be honest. If you want to see a similar film with ramped up tension, then check out the fabulous French horror film Them (or Ils, if you want to be all French about it). Want a British take on the grim face of terror? Then try Eden Lake. I’d even argue My Little Eye from years ago makes more of a go of it. But The Purge? I’d skip on by if you’re looking for any modicum of fear to be evoked.

The problems with the film are in no way due to the acting talents of Hawke and the always-reliable Headey, who definitely carry the film for the duration. Their performances are solid and do exactly what’s expected of them. As some will know, this isn’t Hawke‘s first foray into horror, following on from last year’s LOUD NOISES fest, Sinister. I’d argue that whilst The Purge is more grounded in reality (something that should elicit worry and anxiety from the audience), Sinister had more scares to it. And considering the scare quota of Sinister was about 4, you’re getting an idea of how “scary” this film is. Having said that, you can’t escape how genuinely creepy Rhys Wakefield is in his antagonist role… that smile below… it’s what you’ll take from this movie!

The Purge (2013)

Perhaps the main problem with The Purge is the fact that it bills itself as a horror movie. The studio took the wrong angle here. They’d have been better off playing it out as a thriller. That, or they should have jacked up the jump levels. Sure, I’m glad they didn’t resort to cheap loud noises, but they needed something there. A lofty plot and interesting premise can only carry a film for so long.

Ultimately, The Purge didn’t purge me of my desire to be scared. It still persists. The opening 30 minutes of the film are great, grizzly and thought-provoking, but after that we’re subjected to a rather timid example of “stalkers in a house” – something that has been done to death since… well, since forever. So whilst I must applaud James DeMonaco on writing an interesting idea, it’s a shame it wasn’t more fleshed out from beginning to end.

So, back to the opening… what do The Purge and The Phage have in common? Are we prone to violent outbursts? Do we peak too soon and get really boring the more you read on (don’t answer that!)? Or do we just share a smattering of letters in common? I’d like to think it’s just the last of these options… unless you steal a slice of our pizza… You don’t wanna make a Phage mad now…

Phage Factor:

3 Star

Sinister (2012)

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never been a fan of Anchorman and all of its sayings that some fans will spit back at you ad-verbatim like it’s still a fresh and exciting movie, and not something that’s now eight years old. But one quote, or scene, does stick with me – and that’s the one in which Steve Carell‘s character just exclaims “LOUD NOISES!” as his contribution to an argument. It was funny. It was apt. So why am I bringing this up in a review that’s not for The Campaign? Well, because I don’t think there’s any other phrase, spare “LOUD NOISES!” that really sums up horror movies of the past five years. Does Sinister follow this well trod path, or is it something altogether more… sinister?

The set up for the film is that true crime author Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves his family to a new town so that he can write his new book about some grizzly murders that happened there: a quadruple hanging. Of course, Ellison decides to move the family into the exact house where the hangings happened (unbeknown to his family) so that he can draw inspiration from the surroundings and maybe uncover a thing or two about the unsolved murders. But Ellison uncovers a box of film in the attic that explicitly details a series of brutal murders all featuring a rather evil looking presence. Obviously, I can’t divulge much more, but that’s the premise. But is it any good?

Well, it’s a mixed bag. I also can’t help but feel that Sinister and Insidious have more in common than a single word title. Let me make this clear: I thought Insidious was an OK horror movie that had a solid narrative… for the first 2/3 of the film. That last act was appalling and looked like it was shot in a high school drama class. Honestly – the “make up” on the “big bad red faced demon” was abysmal. That whole ending left a sour taste in my mouth. But the main problem with Insidious and Sinister is their reliance on the aforementioned LOUD NOISES! The films rarely employ true terror or fear. The vast majority of the jumps come from cheap amplified noises. This isn’t horror. This is just making people jump. I could pop a balloon behind you right now and you’d jump. It’s not horror or terror – it’s surprise. This is why I can’t really say that Sinister distinguishes itself from the pack. It’s more of the same.

Ethan Hawke is fantastic here… even if he does look like Johnny “Drama” Chase…

I will however say that the plot, whilst supernatural and a little forced, works well. I enjoyed the general premise of the film as a whole and I really must commend Ethan Hawke here. He seamlessly holds the film together and really slogs it out on-screen. It’s refreshing to have a horror movie that’s genuinely well acted by its lead protagonist. One thing I’ve got to mention though… since when did Johnny “Drama” Chase from HBO’s Entourage (RIP) start acting in films? In the trailers I swore that Ethan Hawke was Kevin Dillon – they look almost identical. I was half expecting to see Turtle and E run on-screen and make the film into a total Bromance (yes, I loved Entourage, and can’t let go of it). But getting back on track: Hawke is brilliant. That’s not to say the rest of the cast are slouches, but they never stood out in the same way. James Ransone‘s Deputy was the comic relief and Juliet Rylance ably portrayed Hawke‘s wife, Tracy, but the children? Eh… less noteworthy. They’re no Pierce Gagnon, that’s for sure. Can’t we cast him in all films from now on? And cast Tom Hardy in there too? I’d pay.

If you shhh it makes the LOUD NOISES even LOUDER!!

Whilst I wouldn’t say I was disappointed by Sinister, I almost knew what I was going to get from the outset. As soon as I see all of these “terrifying”, “you won’t sleep at night” and “best horror of the decade” quotes I’m immediately suspicious. Especially when they come from small-time horror film sites about as big as Film Phage – hey, it’s true, we’re small time  here (for now…). I just feel that either the standards for horror are slipping, or that people have forgotten what it’s like to be truly terrified by a film. Maybe I’m just hard to scare in that regard, but I didn’t feel tense or have an feeling of horror for the entire runtime. It was just interesting. I still say that nothing has come close to capturing the nuanced horror of Rec or even The Ring upon first viewing in a darkened cinema. There’s just too much emphasis on cheap jumps as opposed to psychologically terrifying someone. Although it’s lambasted, you’ve got to credit the original Paranormal Activity for at least trying this and making people doubt their own eyesight. A clever innovation. A clever innovation that will not be found in Sinister, despite Hawke‘s best efforts.

The only thing truly sinister about Sinister is how they managed to amass so many positive quotes from fellow critics that made the film seem the equivalent of a live-action ritual sacrifice with demons emerging from the lacerated corpse. Instead what we have is a film with a solid plot and a dodgy sound system that spikes way too often.

I’ll say one thing: Sinister beats out The Possession as best horror film I’ve seen in the past few weeks, but considering that’s its only competition that’s not saying much. With only Paranormal Activity 4 and perhaps Silent Hill: Revelations still to go, it could be another very unscary Halloween. LOUD NOISES!!!

Phage Factor: