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

Dredd 3D (2012)

Dredd’s unimpressed with neutered adaptations.

It happens so often when Hollywood tries to convert a comic book from page to screen: they compromise. The visceral and often violent nature of some of the comic world’s big guns is lost in order to make that 12A / PG-13 rating, so that you can make more money from the kids dragging their parents along. Sure, you might be able to get away with it for Spider-Man or Superman, who are both “nice guys” really. But then take a hero like Wolverine, and the transition isn’t going to be as smooth, as this is a guy that would tear people in half in the comics. Literally. But on-screen he’s thus far been neutered somewhat, and lamentably I doubt 2013’s The Wolverine is going to alter that any time soon. So we now come to Dredd 3D: based on a comic that is never afraid to shy away from ultra-violence. But does the Judge get his due this time around? Well… it’s an 18-rated film isn’t it?

To many people, the mention of Judge Dredd will stir memories of a misfiring vehicle for Sylvester Stallone back in 1995. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t faithful. It was just an excuse to milk the machine that was Stallone‘s popularity. So techinically, yes, this is a reboot of what’s gone before. But you’d be missing out if you dismissed this film out of hand for that alone. It’s got a lot more in common with this year’s excellent The Raid: Redemption than it has with that 1995 hiccup.

It’s a chin off… who’s more authentic to you?

For the uninitiated, Dredd 3D follows the titular Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) as he dispenses justice on the future city of Mega City One. These “Judges” are effectively police who have been granted the powers of judge, jury and executioner should the situation merit it. The film follows Dredd over one day in which he has been charged with taking a rookie with psychic abilities under his wing (Olivia Thirlby) as they investigate a series of homicides at a colossal tower block. However, by doing so they stumble upon something much bigger and invoke the wrath of gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) who seals them in for extermination.

Now, does this remind you of anything? Anything quite recent? Perhaps a film I mentioned earlier in this review? Yes, The Raid: Redemption is undeniably similar in plot to Dredd 3D. Both involve police being locked in a skyscraper and having to take down a gang-leader at the top of the tower. It’s actually quite alarming when you realise this. If they weren’t both in production simultaneously then you’d swear one was borrowing liberally from the other. However, don’t let this detract you from just how good Dredd 3D is. It’s different in enough ways to appeal in its own unique way. I might even go as far as saying that I preferred this to The Raid: Redemption! I’m just a sucker for a gritty, grimey cyber-punk setting with an arsenal of high-calibre weapons on offer, as opposed to The Raid: Redemption‘s (utterly gob-smacking) hand-to-hand fight scenes.

But let’s go back to a point I raised earlier: how faithful is this to the source material? Whilst you’re never going to please every fan there is, I’m happy with how this turned out. Dredd 3D eschews normal conventions and gets graphic with its violence. People will be skinned, heads caved in and yes, there will be blood. It’s great to see director Pete Travis really embraced the ultra-violence of the comics and ran with it. I wonder if this would have happened had Sony, Universal or Fox had the rights to Judge Dredd. I doubt it.

With regards to the acting, you can crack as many skulls as you like, but if the acting is weak it’s going to achieve nothing. I’m happy to report that the acting is solid throughout, with all actors seeming to embrace their roles. Much has been made of Karl Urban‘s chin in the media; owing to the fact that he never removes his helmet. How can an actor act in this way you ask? Well, Tom Hardy did fabulous without half of his face visible, and Urban does a similarly great job. He churns out wry one-liners and like Hardy‘s Bane is an imposing presence. You see him on-screen and accept that he is the Judge – a man to be feared if you’re up to no good. Similarly, the supporting cast of Olivia Thirlby (Juno), Wood Harris (The Wire) and Lena Headey (300, Game of Thrones) are all great at embodying their roles. What I like is that none of these actors are huge Hollywood icons; they’re essentially unknowns in the grand scheme of things. And this works in the film’s favour, as we have no pre-formed opinions.

And I can’t pass judgement without talking about the visuals. Whilst they’re nowhere near the level of eye candy seen in Total Recall, they’re done very well. The film was mostly shot in Cape Town, South Africa, and Mega City One was modelled on the metropolis of Johannesburg (let’s try not to draw any parallels between crime-ridden Mega City One and Johannesburg though!) The film looks grimey, dark and oppressive. This is probably why it doesn’t look as bright and vibrant as Total Recall‘s cityscapes; it’s not meant to. Fans of Zack Snyder‘s penchance for slow motion will also be in luck, as there’s enough of this in the film. Thankfully it’s not overused though and has a legitimate reason for being there: the drug known as “Slo-Mo”, which makes the user feel like time is passing incredibly slowly. A clever idea.

The Phage: I am the law.

Ultimately, if you can look past Dredd 3D‘s similarities to The Raid: Redemption in terms of plot, then I think you’re in for a treat. In fact, I urge you to try not to compare them to one another, as they’re both great pieces of film-making that have unfortunately landed in cinemas in the same year. The film’s take on a dystopian, crime-ridden future is a compelling one that doesn’t relent during its running time. I felt engaged the whole way through, thanks to the gripping portrayal of Judge Dredd by Karl Urban. The film is quite minimalistic and delivers relentlessly. He is the law. All hail.

And if you’re a fan of Judge Dredd, action films, ultra-violence or seeing an accurate portrayal of a comic book, then look no further than this. The current trend with comic book movies is to make them “gritty” and “real”. Despite Dredd 3D‘s futuristic setting, I’d say it achieved this aim better than other films that have aimed squarely for this goal. So, Mr. Jackman, it’s over to you: will we be getting the Wolverine we’re all baying for next year? One that’ll finally use those claws in the way that the comics intended, or are we staring down the barrel of another pale imitation of the one they call Logan? So bub, what’s it gonna be?

Phage Factor: