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

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Dark Skies (2013)

Dark Skies (2013)

The truth is out there… Are you hearing that theme song in your head yet? Yes, The X-Files did wonders for getting the concept of aliens “out there” into the public domain. It triggered an unhealthy fascination in what’s up in the skies for a lot of people. The same people (mainly guys) also developed an unhealthy obsession with Gillian Anderson. Me? I’m just fascinated with how David Duchovny looks almost exactly the same now as he did back in 1992. Whatever alien gloop he’s using on his skin, I want some! Sure, aliens have taken many forms in the movies too – from the horrific “tongue-y” xenomorphs in the Alien franchise to the little guy who’s got a really long glowing finger and is obsessed with going home – but none are more famous than the “Greys”. You know the ones: really tall, long limbs, huge black eyes… oh, and they’re grey. Think Roger from American Dad! or any alien seen in South Park. Got it? Good. So how does Dark Skies, the latest alien horror movie, deal with the deities from the sky?

The Signs of Dark Skies are evident for all to see...

The Signs of Dark Skies are evident for all to see…

Well… have you seen Signs? You know, when M. Night Shyamalan was still delivering top notch movies that you really wanted to go out and see? If you’re with me, then lift that plot up and supplant it into Dark Skies and you’ve essentially got the premise. I know what you’re thinking if you’re a regular reader: “Hey, Phage, where’s the plot summary? I don’t like change – just do things like you normally do!”… but I’m honestly not kidding when I say that Signs and Dark Skies are almost exactly the same film. Replace the farm from Signs with a suburban neighbourhood, whip out Joaquin Phoenix and Mel Gibson and replace with Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton and you’re pretty much on the money.

OK, I’ll give you a summary lest I lose you forever into the void that is the internet: Dark Skies follows the lives of Daniel and Lacy Barrett and their two young boys. Sure, they’re going through financial troubles, but that’s the least of their worries when their youngest, Sam (Kadan Rockett) starts to act peculiarly and attributes his odd behaviour to the “Sandman”. But that’s only the beginning… as soon the whole family is engulfed in what can only be described as an “extraterrestrial” experience…

Dark Skies (2013)

I’m a bit surprised actually, as I’ve made the film sound wholly more exciting than it was. The crux of the problem with Dark Skies isn’t that it’s got a bit too much in common with Signs, but the fact that the pacing is entirely off. Especially for a “horror” movie. I know that I often lament the use of loud noises, camera jerks and cheap startling tactics, but they do at least add some (false) frights into a horror movie. Dark Skies lacks all of these for at least the first 3/4 of the movie. This would ordinarily cause me to commend the film. However, their absence actually exposes the critical weakness of the film: nothing’s happening. It’s not suspenseful – nothing’s happening.

We’re all accustomed to horror films ramping up the tension over their run time. This is especially true with the Paranormal Activity franchise; it’s their calling card. You know the scares are going to get bigger and more intense the longer the run time goes on. Hell, I can still see the ending of REC in my mind’s eye (now that was a horror film!)… that was a build-up punctuated with a ton of scares along the way. It seems that Dark Skies saved all of its material for the final quarter of the film. This wouldn’t be bad, if the final quarter wasn’t quite so poor too. You already know how it’s going to end.

Dark Skies (2013)

The trouble is that the film tries to shoehorn in too many ideas from other films. You have the obvious Signs similarities, then the use of surveillance footage (Paranormal Activity), night vision cameras (Paranormal Activity 2) and emotionally disturbed children (Poltergeist). What you’re left with is a product that isn’t equal to the sum of its parts.

All that being said, I admire the film-makers for being bold in attempting something a little different from the normal LOUD NOISES approach to horror movies; making it unfortunate that the plot is a bit too bare and basic. When I saw that it came “from the producer of Insidious, Sinister and Paranormal Activity“, I thought I knew what I was going to get (clue: NOISES), but I was mistaken. Turns out I wasn’t mistaken about the ending though…

Ultimately, I just failed to be scared or even feel absorbed by the plot of Dark Skies. Even the most “startling” of modern horror movies at least have me hooked into the plot to see how it’ll all play out, but this was stripped away by my overwhelming sense of déja-vu. Dark Skies isn’t for those with short-attention spans, but nor is it for those that want a pay-off in their films. If the skies are dark and forboding outside your house, don’t try venturing out to the cinema for Dark Skies. You’d have more fun re-watching The X-Files.

So back to the real question here… just how does David Duchovny do it? How does he still look as youthful as he did in the early 1990’s? Maybe it was the fact that he played a character obsessed with aliens? Perhaps he actually did encounter aliens and they gave him some magical youth formula… that’d make a lot of sense. Or maybe it’s just the well-documented fact that he was a sex addict for much of his life and he’s actually a vampire absorbing their youth as he goes. Now that’s a film idea! The truth IS out there.

Phage Factor:

1.5 Stars

The 2012 Phagee Awards

Phagee Awards 2012

The years… they come and go faster than Lindsay Lohan‘s court appearances. But 2012 was special. It was the year that Film Phage entered the universe, kicking and squealing at the bright lights… once again, just like Lindsay Lohan. And as is traditional at this time of year, I think it’s apt to take a retrospective look at the year that was and hand out the coveted Phagees [pronounced fay-jeez]. In this, the First Annual Phagee Awards, there are a number of categories and prizes up for grabs – none of which are worth the paper they’re printed on, or indeed, the pixels they’re displayed on.

Loyal readers who’ve been with us from the start will know that our birth was only in the middle of the summer, so the films released in the first half of the year were in the months BP (Before Phage) and as such, have no reviews. We’ve been thinking long and hard whether it’s right to include these “unreviewed” films in our awards, and we came to the conclusion that yes… yes it is right. If you disagree, then please write to the Awards Committee at thisaddress@doesntexist.com and make your voice heard!

In each category, we have up to 5 nominees from all the films released this year. But there can be only one winner in each! Also, we’re running with the UK release schedule – we got some 2011 films in 2012 and won’t sadly be getting the likes of Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln and Django Unchained until 2013! Regardless, let’s get this show on the road!

Best Animated Film

FrankenweenieParaNormanBraveIce Age: Continental DriftRise of the Guardians

Winner:

Phagee Frankenweenie

Yes, like you, we also don’t think Tim Burton is the Messiah, nor do we rate many of his newer movies, but we really felt Frankenweenie was a cut above the rest of this year’s nominations. It looked gorgeous and had a deliciously macabre sense of kooky humour to it. Its innumerable nods to horror films of yesteryear was also really nice to see and easily merits repeat viewings. Plus, it’s Burton… you never know how he’ll end a film. He’s not afraid embrace the darkness. All this being said… had Disney decided 2012 was an appropriate year to release Wreck-It Ralph in the UK, the winner’s podium may not look exactly like this…

Best Male Actor:

Matthew McConaughey (Killer Joe) / Tom Hardy (Lawless) / Pierce Gagnon (Looper) / Ben Affleck (Argo) / Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)

Winner:

Phagee Tom Hardy

Now, as my loyal Phagelings know all too well, I’d be more than happy if they cast Tom Hardy in every movie until the end of time and 2012 really has marked his arrival with the mainstream audiences courtesy of his roles in The Dark Knight Rises and Lawless. I think the guy is a sheer force of nature, which is why we’ve awarded him the 2012 Best Male Actor Award. Not just for his subdued and stunning performance in Lawless, but also for his sheer presence and abilities as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. I do however have to give much credit to the young Pierce Gagnon. I’d be very tempted to give him the prize owing to his skills in Looper, but I think there’s more to come from this little guy. I want to see what his next move is.

Best Female Actor:

Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) / Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man) / Juno Temple (Killer Joe) / Kate Winslet (Carnage)

Winner:

Phagee Jennifer Lawrence

Having looked through all the releases that have dropped in the UK this year, I’ve got to say that it’s something of a paltry selection for Best Female Actor this year. In the US, you have Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln and Les Miserables already released. But here? No such luck. That being said, Jennifer Lawrence has really come into her own thanks to that performance in Silver Linings Playbook and is totally deserving of the Phagee here. I really enjoyed her performance here and the chemistry and back-and-forths between Bradley Cooper and Lawrence made for a sleeper hit for the year. Glad to see she’s being recognised in the “real” Awards Ceremonies in the world too.

Best Comic Book Adaptation:

The Amazing Spider-Man / Dredd / Avengers Assemble / The Dark Knight Rises

Winner:

Phagee Avengers

What a year for the comic book fan! Ultimately though, this came down to a two horse race between Marvel’s Avengers Assemble / The Avengers and DC’s The Dark Knight Rises. Although I found the dark tone and Tom Hardy‘s portrayal of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises to both be particularly appealing, you’ve got to hand it to Marvel Studios for pulling off the film that many thought would be too big and too grandiose in scope. But Joss Whedon scripted and directed one hell of a film. I must confess, I’m a Marvel fan boy, but who didn’t laugh at Hulk’s squabbles with Thor and Loki? Or feel the “ooo, this is awesome” sensation upon seeing the trailer for the first time. Be honest! And with the quick glimpse of Thanos in the closing credits… well… I can’t wait for Joss‘ next script and instalment in 2015.

Best Comedy Film:

21 Jump Street / American Reunion / Seven Psychopaths / Silver Linings Playbook / Goon

Winner:

Phagee 21 Jump Street

2012 was a great year for comedy and we thoroughly enjoyed all of the selections in this category, especially the underrated Goon, with Sean William Scott acting his chops off in a role that wasn’t Stifler. Having said that, the runaway hit of the year for me was 21 Jump Street. Who’d have thought that Channing Tatum, the dancing fiend, would have such comedic timing? It was also great to see Jonah Hill in a funny comedy once again. We all know that he was great in Moneyball, but it’s good to see him back at home getting some laughs. And who doesn’t love it when Ice Cube shouts at people? Roll on the sequel…

Most Searched For Term on Film Phage:

Is Kevin Dillon (Johnny Drama) in Sinister? / Sofia Vergara’s boobs / Ron Perlman as an ape / Pierce Gagnon / Merida in Brave

Winner:

Phagee Pierce Gagnon

We’ve had some truly bizarre search terms bringing people to Film Phage this year. Some of you are rather odd. Let’s just say there’s been some extremely peculiar terms entered into Google! Whilst lots of people were searching for a glimpse of Sofia Vergara‘s cleavage, courtesy of The Three Stooges, she didn’t bring us the most traffic. No, that honour went to the young Pierce Gagnon thanks to his sterling turn in Looper. However, it was nice to see that some of my odd comparisons this year also brought in the traffic. Hundreds of people still want to know if Kevin Dillon aka Johnny Drama from HBO’s Entourage is in Sinister. I’ll again answer this… no, it’s just Ethan Hawke doing his best Drama impression. Similarly, no, Ron Perlman does not voice Gutt the pirate-ape in Ice Age: Continental Drift – that honour goes to Peter Dinklage. So many of you also were trying to hunt down pictures of Ron Perlman shirtless / in his younger years / grinning. You crazy bunch.

Worst Film of the Year:

Piranha 3DD / The Three Stooges / Keith Lemon: The Film / Snow White and the Huntman / The Muppets

Winner:

Phagee Keith Lemon

Wow, there really were some stinkers this year – even before Film Phage launched. And no, I didn’t think The Muppets was fun either. I fell asleep for the first time in a movie since I was about 4 years old. But the dubious honour of “Worst Film of the Year” goes to Keith Lemon: The Film. Never have I been so bored and unentertained in a comedy movie. Even the teenage target audience were walking out of the screening before the 1 hour mark was up. Maybe Kelly Brook should have opted to somehow appear in Piranha 3DD after her turn in the original Piranha 3D, instead of opting to guest in this. Not “bang tidy”.

The 2012 Film of the Year:

Argo / Looper / Avengers Assemble / The Dark Knight Rises / Killer Joe

Winner:

Phagee Looper

And so we arrive at our biggest Phagee: The Film of the Year. It was tough. Real tough. Although Killer Joe was the first film reviewed here on Film Phage, it still remains one of the year’s best for me thanks to McConaughey‘s performance. However, my film of the year rests with Looper. I know… a controversial choice. Although I loved Avengers Assemble and really think it achieved so much, it had a rather basic plot. I understand that this was probably needed as it was essentially an “Avengers Origins” movie, but it still lacked a riveting story. Looper cannot be accused of the same. Yes, it has its plot holes, but it also has Pierce Gagnon. And Bruce Willis back at his best. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt pretending to be Bruce Willis back at his best. We enjoyed every moment of the film and brand it with our Phagee for Film of the Year.

What were your most enjoyed films this year? I’m sure many of you have opinions and your own favourites. I’m also sure many of you disagree with me on my big Phagee winner of the year: Looper. I’ve yet to see it figure anywhere else in any other poll of the year. Controversial? Probably. But I bloody enjoyed it… and that’s what matters.

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: