23 August 2015

Why The Purge Needed John Carpenter

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If you could get away with killing somebody, do you think you would do it? I know I would. I won't say who they are but if you've ever been within about six foot of me then you'll be more than aware of the situation. You know how some people are always banging on about the holiday they're going to plan or what they'd do if they won the lottery? Well my version of that is to try to come up with the most atrocious way for that specific person to die. My current favourite idea is to buy them a Jack-In-The-Box to wind up, though neglecting to tell them that I've replaced the springy man with a springy cup of anthrax. I told my Mum that I wanted somebody to walk up and knife the person in the face--that was fine. I then said that there isn't a cancer in the world that I didn't wish on them. My Mum then kicked off on me on the grounds that you shouldn't wish cancer on anybody... and you wonder where I get my morals from.. Apparently I've been raised to believe that slashing somebody in the kisser is okay but hoping that they get a fairly common disease is beyond fucked up. I know that I'll never commit this justified act of violence- beyond anything I've told so many people that I'd never get away with it.. but you know, I guess a boy can dream. 

The Purge takes place in 2022 and depicts an America where shit has gotten so bad that all crimes have become legal for one night. As I'm sure you can imagine from the opening paragraph, I would be more than on board with this for at least the first trial year. According to the preamble, this national holiday has improved employment and reduced crime... I'm not sure how. It's meant to be that this night acts as a release, allowing the public to get all their bad feelings and stress out by burying an axe into their step-mum's head or whatever. However if our media is to be believed then the only thing Americans seem to love more than eating from a bucket is shooting the fuck out of each other and they really don't seem too worried about the legal consequences of it as it is. So the fantasy element of this movie isn't necessarily that it takes place in a world where people are happy for crime to be legal for one night, but rather that they've managed to keep it to just that one night. Anyway, so Ethan Hawke sells security equipment to ensure that the people who can afford to be safe will be and as a result has a pretty well-protected home himself. Purge night looms and so he and his family decide to settle in for its duration as the country goes ape-shit outside. Like when my own family comes to visit me, they intend to just pull the shutters down, pretend they're not in and hope everybody just leaves them alone.  

I know that The Purge has been out a little while but I recently took part in a marathon of director John Carpenter's films and ended up becoming a full on obsessive. I love everything about his good movies and I'm more than able to store the memory of his bad ones in that room of my Mind Palace that I call 'shit to be ignored'. Evidence of how great Carpenter is can be seen by the fact by the void he's left now that he's slowed his output, and how it is frantically getting filled by younger directors who grew up on his work. If you're a fan of this great man then I strongly recommend both The Guest and Cold In July as an effective form of methadone as you rightly pretend that Escape From L.A. just doesn't exist. Whilst looking for my next fix, this movie started to grow in my mind as sounding suitably Carpenter-esque. It has a pulpy concept and gave the impression that it'd flaunt its genre heritage with all the pride of a rainbow flag tattooed to the arse of George Michael's personal army of rentboys. I wasn't wrong either as almost every fibre of The Purge seemed to have been shaved off a 'Best Of John Carpenter' DVD boxset.. It has the anarchic society of Escape From New York, the holding-up-against-an-attack of Assault On Precinct 13, and the suggestion of satire of They Live. Oh- and like Carpenter's Ghosts Of Mars, it's also a little bit shit. 

The problem is that the concept is obviously ridiculous and yet it seems to take itself a little too seriously. For a start, how is this a good idea for a country to indulge in? Even if you can convince everybody to keep their killing down to the one night then why is it just murder that people enjoy? As we see Hawke hide behind his protective shutters, there's got to be a maternity ward somewhere being fucked into oblivion by a pack of pedophiles and ex-BBC presenters. Do we really think that a nation would enjoy a system that also allows that? A huge percentage of America insists on having their heads in the clouds and firmly lodged up God's anus to the point where they're still anti-abortion. A woman who is raped and conceives can be considered immoral for wanting to end a horrible situation- are they really going to be open to a night in which you can legally chop up a child and shove it up your arse because of a bad day in work?  

I don't mind the ridiculous central concept of the movie on principal as that's obviously what drew me to it. The problem is that the film never develops its ideas beyond their basic conception and it forgets how stupid that main idea actually is. There's some light satire in the background about class war but the survival horror is put front and centre instead. What should have been a knowingly fun movie which emphasised its social commentary instead became a bog standard home invasion movie that does nothing that hasn't been seen a million times before. In fact, all you have to do is look at a film like You're Next, which was also inspired by Carpenter, to see how to do this kind of movie well. If you're going to do something for the millionth time then we're really at a point where you either have to subvert our expectations or be knowingly deconstructive. The Purge however decided to take an interesting idea and then turns it into a gory version of Home Alone. A family sneaking about their house as people attempt to kill them could happen almost identically with a variety of different set-ups which more or less renders the initial concept of a Purge Night redundant. Plus by doing this and emphasising the realistic horror of a family, instead of emphasising the possibilities for satire, you do open the concept up for questioning. Hence wondering why we're watching this boring family in a world of pedophiles, terrorists, and whatever O.J. Simpson is. 

It's all such a shame too really as that basic idea of there being one night a year to commit crime is so ripe for exploration. Particularly if you wanted to make a film that was so obviously an homage to the works of John Carpenter. If you have to keep the home invasion stuff then that's fine, just add on a cool synth-y soundtrack, a more in-your-face lighting scheme, and a wink that's as big and knowing as Goatse's gaping anus. Oh, and not only that but there's a character in this film who's quite young, has blonde hair, and looks a bit like Wyatt Russell. In which case, cast fucking Wyatt Russell instead considering that he's shockingly identical to his Dad, Kurt Russell. For those who don't know, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell where very much the Jack and Rose of 80's genre cinema with this similarity being something that Cold In July really took advantage of. Speaking of the characters it might also be worth changing them to be more metaphorical of whatever the films theme is instead of attempting to make them realistic or relatable. Arguably this is the case with Hawke, but the others were just the usual determined wife and annoying kids that you get in horror films all the time. Not only would this change have helped with the satire but by making them a little more exaggerated it really would have aided my inability to relate to Ethan Hawke. Nothing against him as he's clearly a good actor but whenever I see him I end up spending most of my time trying to guess who he physically reminds me of the most. So far I've narrowed it down to Kevin Bacon, Guy Pearce, Tom Waits, David Hasselhoff and a rat. 

Of course at this point you could argue that it seems like my biggest criticism of the movie is that it wasn't the John Carpenter tribute I'd hoped for, therefore I'm not slagging off the actual film but simply venting about it not being the film that I wanted it to be. But this is crap and so fuck you. Firstly I didn't hate it- it was simply okay. Some of the home invasion stuff was quite tense, but other than squandering its set-up, it really does bring nothing new to the table. So even on those terms, you're not left with anything special. However you know how people who believe in a particular God start seeing evidence for their beliefs everywhere whilst ignoring the stuff that contradicts it. Like being grateful to God for giving them a free ice-cream whilst ignoring the fact that they've just murdered four children and a van driver to get it. Maybe you think that just like that, I'm seeing signs of an homage to Carpenter simply because that's what I love, and so when I'm disappointed that it didn't take this vibe further, it might actually be because the director had no interest in this in the first place. Well, again, I say fuck you! Because firstly I am right that this film is an exact blend of They Live, Escape From New York and Assault On Precinct 13... And secondly I know the director himself will be aware of this because he also fucking wrote the remake of Assault On Precinct 13! Therefore the biggest problem with the movie is actually him, with his visually bland direction and inability to take his own idea and run with it. Oh well. The Purge showed potential for greatness but like the person I mentioned earlier and that I'd like to murder, it just plods along, showing no sign of doing anything worthwhile. Never mind. Thanks for reading motherfuckers, and see you next time!

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