Mood Lighting: Five films to prime you for “THE PURGE”
As high concept home invasion, THE PURGE is a traditional siege story locked in ludicrous (not a knock!) scenario and social commentary. While not entirely successful, it does achieve a level of both fun diversion and being admirable in its more biting intentions, making it a nice candidate for a little Mood Lighting.
As with the last piece of this nature, I’m unsure if PURGE director James DeMonaco looked to any of these in production or development, but that’s irrelevant. While the majority of these films are of a certain genre variety, there’s a lot of different atmosphere swarming here, and what’s most important is the idea that either walking in or out of the theater, these should keep you feeling uncomfortable in your own home for much of the weekend.
SOCIETY (1989), Dir. Brian Yuzna
While allegorical and silly, THE PURGE’s legal 12-hour crime spree eventually has nothing on the incredibly warped stuff at play in Brian Yuzna’s satire of, as you may guess, high society. Both films like to spell out how they feel about the entitled rich and what the upper echelons of society think the have-nots are good for, but thankfully it’s never a bore. Where THE PURGE has the ever-grinning, charismatic blonde Rhys Wakefield, SOCIETY presents one of the most bizzaro final acts in all of practical FX. In fact, its opening credits bills (perhaps as a warning) the stellar special makeup work by Screaming Mad George as surrealistic; even that feels an understatement. The final reveal of Society’s nighttime actions is a sloppy, wet, repulsive, incestuous orgy where judges and doctors and respectable people alike meld skin, tear their middle-class denizen targets inside out and suck the life from them. The film, while also terribly funny throughout, does a fantastic job of visualizing lead character Billy’s hunch that he just doesn’t belong. The upper crust here is exclusive, playing games to remind and assert superiority, even to their own family members. What’s perhaps smartest about Woody Keith and Rick Fry’s screenplay though, is the vague explanation in which the Beverly Hills monsters highlight how un-extraterrestrial they are. Instead, the filmmaker calls out their feeling of entitlement via legacy, and perhaps most unsettling their final, utter lack of loyalty or community.
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) Dir. John Carpenter
Scratch an earlier statement. The influence of John Carpenter is all but undeniable here, and that’s without noting that DeMonaco previously penned the also-Ethan Hawke-starring PRECINCT 13 remake. Carpenter, a master of genre sees a lot of his characteristics pop up in THE PURGE. The HALLOWEEN and THEY LIVE filmmaker was almost always dealing in archetypal, mythical storytelling (often using aesthetics and tropes of the Western) and spicing it up with bigger concepts and worlds. We don’t see much of the larger universe of THE PURGE (outside of an unsettling opening credits; another share with SOCIETY), so at heart it becomes a home invasion/siege movie that holds some neat action within. And while THE PURGE certainly holds the satirical aspects of THEY LIVE, it eventually gives way to something simpler and more thriller-based.
DREAM HOME (2010) Dir. Pang Ho-cheung
Regarded as one of the best contemporary slashers, Ho-Cheung Pang’s DREAM HOME seems actually more one-woman siege, with class disparity and working class struggle right at the core. Josie Ho is fantastic as Cheng Lai-sheung, a woman who works tirelessly towards one goal: a specific apartment that overlooks the Victoria Harbor. She seems never to attain it though. Her multiple jobs end up maintaining the health of family and when a deal finally seems near, its ensuing collapse is her breaking point. What follows is a single night assault on the complex and its many residents. In THE PURGE, those taking part in the annual carnage are surefire villains and clearly a parallel to the more insidious components of our own society, but while DREAM HOME doesn’t exactly condone Cheng Lai-sheung’s actions, it gives us a reason to care why she’s doing it. An honest-to-god emotional connection is forged even as she gets down to some truly repulsive business. It’s all fantastically executed, while remaining quite timely in portraying the lengths we all must go to, to live our lives in a downtrodden economy.
FUNNY GAMES (2007) Dir. Michael Haneke
Yo, you said blonde intruder? As reports of people cheering on the violence at screenings of THE PURGE make Twitter rounds, Michael Haneke’s intense ordeal of a home invasion film seems apropos. As preppy, polite (at first) Tom and Jerry or Peter and Paul or what have you, Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet are menacing and relentless. It’s a grim affair that is ultimately so confrontational, it breaks the fourth wall in efforts to have its audience focus on American morals (talking remake here) and violence as entertainment. It’s both more thoughtful and certainly preach-ier than THE PURGE and together with the final entry, may be just right if you want something rougher.
FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE (1977) Dir. Robert A. Endelson
Where THE PURGE’s issues are absolutely accompanied with racial conflict, FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE is almost wholly focused on the divide. William Sanderson plays an incredible asshole, both stunningly racist and newly escaped from jail. He and cohorts arrive at the home of a black minister and his family and soon take them hostage, defiling and devaluing at every opportunity. In THE PURGE, Ethan Hawke isn’t interested in violence or “purging,” but not because he is actually morally superior (he sells Purge-proof security systems, after all). Ted Turner, however, is a peaceful man of God and Endelson’s film just has you waiting, hoping, for him to take Sanderson out. THE PURGE is slick and synthy in its action, but FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE is something cheap, gross and midnight worthy.