Like a bad case of déjà vu in which your worst nightmares are orchestrated by some of horror cinemas most macabre minds, 31 Fright Nights returns in 2017 with another selection of films that feature rotating heads, talking TV’s, alternate dimensions, unstoppable slashers and The Godfather of found footage movies.
This year’s theme is sequels. Following on from last year’s films will be the sequels that sought to be bigger, better and scarier than their predecessor, expanding a story into a mythology and (in some cases) a standalone in to a franchise.
Those films that featured in last year’s list that don’t have a sequel have been replaced by various films from the annals of the horror vault, from cold classics to (literally) breathtaking modern marvels.
So behold, your 31 Fright Nights 2017
The Exorcist (1973)
Insidious Chapter 2 (2013)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
Scream 2 (1997)
Lights Out (2016)
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Orphanage (2007)
Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987)
Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (1988)
Saw II (2005)
Don’t Breathe (2016)
Friday the 13th Part II (1981)
A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
If 31 days of horror films haven’t quite desensitised you to blood, gore, guts, violence, sex, nudity, profanity, vulgarity and downright depravity, then here’s a few more for you…
These are my honourable mentions, films worthy of a viewing that either didn’t quite make it into the list or they are films that I’ve discovered just after the list was finalised and the work had begun. Too eager to share than savour them for next year (not another 31 blogs I hear you cry!), here they are. No reviews – just a poster, synopsis, my incisive insight and the trailer courtesy of Youtube.
1. Switchblade Romance (Haute Tension) (2003)
Plot According to Google: A beautiful young Frenchwoman, Alex, travels out to the country to visit her family and brings along her friend Marie. Soon after they get settled in the secluded home, Alex’s parents are brutally attached by a psychotic truck driver who proceeds to stalk the two women as well. When the killer kidnaps Alex in his truck, Marie hides in the back to try and rescue her, but the bloodshed is far from over.
Inertia’s Incisive Insight: A worthy New French Extremity addition from Aja, the superb psychological twist at the end is just as jarring as the violent roller-coaster the film has taken you on.
2. Ratter (2015)
Plot According to Google: Emma, a graduate student living alone in New York City, is watched by a stalker on all of her technological devices. Eventually, the video feeds are not enough and he goes from a virtual to a physical stalker.
Inertia’s Incisive Insight: An interesting found footage addition that adds a creepy, goosebump-inducing angle on where most of the footage is coming from, with a terrifyingly real ending.
3. The Omen (1976)
Plot According to Google: American diplomat Robert adopts Damien when his wife, Katherine, delivers a stillborn child. After Damien’s first nanny hangs herself, Father Brennan warns Robert that Damien will kill Katherine’s unborn child. Shortly thereafter, Brennan dies and Katherine miscarries when Damien pushes her off a balcony. As more people around Damien die, Robert investigates Damien’s background and realises his adopted son may be the Antichrist.
Inertia’s Incisive Insight: The film that made children terrifying – a superbly crafted horror.
4. Horns (2013)
Plot According to Google: Blamed for the murder of his girlfriend, a man awakes one morning to find he has grown a pair of horns. Armed, now, with supernatural powers, he sets out to find the killer.
Inertia’s Incisive Insight: An impeccable performance from Radcliffe that finally sheds the Harry Potter image, Horns is a funny, tragic and visually exquisite film.
5. The Ring (2002)
Plot According to Google: It sounds like just another urban legend – a videotape filled with nightmarish images leads to a phone call foretelling the viewer’s death in exactly seven days. Newspaper reporter Rachel Keller is skeptical of the story until four teenagers all die mysteriously exactly one week after watching just such a tape. Allowing her investigative curiosity to get the better of her, Rachel tracks down the video and watches it. Now she has just seven days to unravel the mystery.
Inertia’s Incisive Insight: A worthy remake of the original J-Horror Ringu, sparking and reinvigorating interest in urban legends.
6. The Thing (1982)
Plot According to Google: In remote Antarctica, a group of American research scientists are disturbed at their base camp by a helicopter shooting at a sled dog. When they take in the dog, it brutally attacks both human beings and canines in the camp and they discover that the beast can assume the shape of its victims. A resourceful helicopter pilot and the camp doctor lead the camp crew in a desperate, gory battle against the vicious creature before it picks them all off, one by one.
Inertia’s Incisive Insight: John Carpenter at his absolute best, The Thing is a dreary, miserable, visually effective timeless horror.
7. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Plot According to Google: Found footage tells the tale of three film students who have traveled to a small town to collect documentary footage about the Blair Witch, a legendary local murderer. Over the course of several days, the students interview townspeople and gather clues to support the tale’s veracity. But the project takes a frightening turn when the students lose their way in the woods and begin hearing horrific noises.
Inertia’s Incisive Insight: The Founding Father of the found footage sub-genre, a truly terrifying masterpiece in horror filmmaking.
8. The Mind’s Eye (2015)
Plot According to Google: A man and his girlfriend become the prisoners of a deranged doctor who wants to harvest their telekenetic powers.
Inertia’s Incisive Insight: A steroid-induced R-rated X-Men. Just phenomenal.
9. Bite (2015)
Plot According to Google: A seemingly harmless bite transforms a young woman into an insect-like creature that needs human flesh for her eggs.
Inertia’s Incisive Insight: Cronenberg re-born, Bite is a tour-de-force in FX and make-up – it’s The Fly of the noughties.
10. Nurse (2013)
Plot According to Google: A young nurse begins to suspect that a sexy colleague is responsible for murdering a string of unfaithful men.
Inertia’s Incisive Insight: An insanely sexy, bloody, gory and downright entertaining schlock-style B-pic.
Plot According to Google: On a cold Halloween night in 1963, six year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his 17 year old sister, Judith. He was sentenced and locked away for 15 years. But on October 30th, 1978, while being transferred for a court date, a 21 year old Michael Myers steals a car and escapes Smith’s Grove. He returns to his quiet hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he looks for his next victims.
Inertia’s Insight: The slasher sub-genre and its films are often derided as being tactless, kill-by-numbers cash cows that only serve to fuel the appetites of blood-thirsty teenagers who cheer for the masked killer as its one-dimensional victims are slaughtered in new and inventive ways. Halloween is debatably the Godfather of the slasher genre: most subsequent slashers tended to follow its trend of a holiday theme, a masked killer, a group of drug-taking alcohol-drinking pre-marital sex indulging teens and the iconic virginal Final Girl. For all its derision, the slasher genre still has some gems, and Halloween is a stone-cold classic.
Touted as an idea called “The Babysitter Murders”, relative newcomer John Carpenter was tasked with creating a horror film on a small budget. With producer and then-girlfriend Debra Hill, they crafted a genuinely terrifying horror film that features barely any blood and has its first murder 53 minutes into its 90 minute run-time.
High school student Laurie babysits the neighbour’s kids on Halloween night, preparing for an evening with no more excitement than pumpkin carving and a pre-watershed horror film. Her friends Lynda and Annie are preparing to get their rocks off with their boyfriends in what is just another evening in little old Haddonfield. But Michael Myers, the guy that murdered his sister when he was just six years old, has escaped Smith’s Grove and is on his way to Haddonfield to wreak havoc in this sleepy town.
The opening shot is infamous and will be taught in film school for years to come. Aesthetically Hitchcockian, the opening continuous shot (thought technically not) sees us in the perspective of an unknown assailant, peeping in from outside before entering the property, taking a knife from the kitchen, putting on a mask, ascending the stairs and murdering the beautiful girl. It isn’t until the end of this scene that its revealed that this merciless killer is in fact a six year old boy. It’s a powerful opening, effective by immersing us into the horror but also for establishing the killer as an emotionless, remorseless, soulless individual.
From here the film, in horror terms, moves slowly as it establishes Laurie, her friends and their environment whilst tracing Michael’s story via the determined Dr. Loomis, the man intent on keeping Michael Myers locked away for the rest of his life because he recognises him as being “purely and simply… evil.” Whilst her friends are out to play, the shy and reserved Laurie, though showing signs of ‘slasher transgressions’ by smoking pot and talking about going to the Homecoming dance with a boy, is prepared for an evening of babysitting and homework. Instead, whilst the sex and drinking goes punished, Laurie fights for her survival against a ruthless and seemingly unstoppable killer.
Carpenter had said that it wasn’t intentional for him to make Laurie’s virginity a heroic part of her Final Girl prowess; rather, the fact that she is not distracted by boys is the reason she is able to survive. It works to her favour, naturally, but you can’t help but feel that in the age of the rebellious teenager, it’s societies way of reflecting on and punishing their transgressions, isolating the virginal girl as the heroine and survivor.
Once the killing starts its relentless and doesn’t let up until Loomis’ intervention at the end. The killings are bloodless, Carpenter relying on the effect and impact of Michael’s imposing force and faceless mask to amplify the scares. The scene in which he pins Bob to the wall with the kitchen knife then stands back, his head moving slowly off-tilt to study his victim with curiosity is just plain terrifying.
Michael Myers is actually an extremely calculated killer. He stalks Laurie for the best part of two thirds of the film, and for me its him first ensuring that she is his sister (though we don’t discover this fact in this film) and then planning how best to isolate her; Michael is clever in his pursuit of his victims, hiding before attacking; he wears the bed sheet in an attempt to win trust from Lynda; his positioning of Annie on the bed with the Myers headstone above her is beautifully macabre. This sets Halloween apart from the slew of slashers that ensued.
The shot of him rising, seemingly from the dead, as Laurie sits panting, thinking that it’s all over is perfect popcorn launching Halloween night fare. There are so many shots in the film that are more frightening than most horror films could offer – the shot of Michael stood outside Laurie’s school, or inbetween the sheets of washing; the shot of Michael walking calmly towards Laurie as she frantically tries to get back into the house; the shot of Michael’s pale mask emerging from the dark after Laurie discovers her friends bodies – all this and more renders Halloween a timeless, classic horror film that, at 38 years old, shows no signs of losing its terrifying impact.
Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *
The infamous mask now has an equally infamous story – its a William Shatner Star Trek mask with the eyes widened then spray painted white.
John Carpenter considered the hiring of Jamie Lee Curtis as the ultimate tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, who had given her Mother, Janet Leigh, legendary status in Psycho.
The original script, “The Babysitter Murders”, had the events take place over several days. It was a budgetary decision to change the script to have everything happen on the same day.
The opening POV sequence took two days to film.
Tommy and Lindsey are watching the 1951 version of The Thing, a film that Carpenter would go on to remake in 1982.
DR. SAM LOOMIS: I met him, fifteen years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six year old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the Devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realised that what was living behind that boys eyes was purely and simply… evil.
SHERIFF BRACKETT: It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.
LAURIE: It was the boogeyman…
DR. SAM LOOMIS: As a matter of fact, it was.
LYNDA: See anything you like?
SHERIFF BRACKETT: Every kid in Haddonfield thinks this place is haunted.
DR. SAM LOOMIS: They may be right.
Plot According to Google: One night, while teenagers Blaire, Mitch, Jess, Adam, Ken and Val take part in an online group chat session, they are suddenly joined by a user known only as “Billie227”. Thinking its just a technical glitch, the friends carry on their conversation… until Blaire begins receiving messages from someone claiming to be Laura Barns, a classmate who killed herself exactly one year prior. As Blaire tries to expose Billie’s identity, her friends are forced to confront their darkest secrets and lies.
Inertia’s Insight: We now live in an age saturated with technology. A wealth of information (and cat videos) is accessible at the touch of a button, at home or on the go. We are connected across several social media platforms, befriending people we went to school with that we barely shared more than a class with and now we share our lives, baby pictures and Instagram-filtered food shots. This connectivity, particularly with the youth, is apt to cause issues with bullying and provocation that we’ve seen explored in dramas on TV and in film for some time. With Unfriended, the filmmakers have explored the concept of a haunted technical world in which the devastation wrought by the supernatural has more of a personal effect than a physical one. Well, kind of…
Unfriended is seen entirely from the perspective of Blaire’s laptop – it’s found footage for the digital age, as the cinema screen becomes a Mac interface. iTunes is open, as are several Safari windows with social media and, of course (plug plug), the MTV website. The film starts with Blaire watching a video of Laura Barns’ suicide and the video that caused her demise. It captures our intrigue whilst highlighting the availability of such distressing footage at our fingertips. Interrupted by a video call from her boyfriend Mitch, she stops the video that will come to serve as the driving force behind the film. Blaire and Mitch’s attempt at a bit of cyber fun is interrupted by the beginning’s of an ordinary midweek group chat with all of their friends that becomes a deadly game of life or death.
The uninvited appearance of the user known only as ‘Billie227′ sparks debate over the identity of this unknown and unseen person. As they interact with it they find that all is not as it should be. At first thinking it to be nothing more than a prank, Laura Barns’ online account starts communicating with Blaire and posting intimate and private pictures of each of the friends from their account, dividing, testing and conquering their friendship.
The use of the computer as the interaction serves the narrative well – our online presence is what we attempt to make of our lives, the bits and pieces we are willing to show that we hope stitch together to form an ideal picture. Seeing Blaire’s computer and private messages shared with Mitch opens her up to us and allows for more of an internal perspective than a by-the-numbers horror film would allow. The only issue with this is that we are left with only a perception of the other characters from their reactions to the ensuing events. This doesn’t turn out to be too much of a problem as they are killed off relatively quickly and in inventive ways.
The video of Laura Barns that led to her suicide is dreadful, a complete invasion of someone’s privacy to the point of it surpassing bullying and almost becoming a criminal offence. But it’s this kind of attitude towards other people’s privacy in this online world that this film effectively highlights. Though they are all sad about the Laura’s passing, the tragedy for them is the way she died and not why she died. The video, to some of them, still appears to be funny, and their attitude towards their friend Val shows that the bullying is practically starting again.
A game of Never Have I Ever appears to be the undoing of them all, as the unknown “Billie227” pits them against each other, exposing their lies and dividing them until there remains only one. The revelation of who posted the video of Laura that led to her suicide is a surprising one, really sending home the message of cyberbullying and its long, negative impact on the lives of those affected. When Blaire searches for help on Chat Roulette, we see the extent to which our lives are so readily available to people online, and the lack of help given by those she pleads to demonstrates the fact that prank videos on YouTube and social media have numbed us all to real-life tragedies.
It’s an interesting concept to use Skype and a computer interface as the entirety of the film, an effective payoff that allows for some new and unique scares. The only pitfall is that it becomes tiresome towards the end – the limitation serves well until the point where we are left with just Blaire and Mitch. At this point you’d expect them to slam the laptop shut and run out to each other, or at the very least for an adult to come in and switch the light on, and so without the realistic expectations at this point, the concept grows tiresome, and isn’t saved by the very cheap and ineffective ending.
Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * *
The film takes place on April 12th, 2014.
The film was originally titled Offline, then it was Cybernatural before finally becoming Unfriended.
Shot in one long take, in real time, with the characters on actual computers.
All filmed in one house with all the cast members in different rooms.
ADAM: Fuck you, Blaire.
BLAIRE: I hate you so much, Adam.
BLAIRE: Mitch, do you hate me? Could you ever forgive me, I am so sorry…
MITCH: Blaire – I don’t hate you, I love you… I love you so much.
KEN: Uh-oh! Someone’s in their chonies! Someone’s in their chonies!
Plot According to Google: When Oskar, a sensitive, bullied 12 year old boy living with his Mother in suburban Sweden, meets his new neighbour, the mysterious and moody Eli, they strike up a friendship. Initially reserved with each other, Oskar and Eli slowly form a close bond, but it soon becomes apparent that she is no ordinary young girl. Eventually, Eli shares her dark, macabre secret with Oskar, revealing her connection to a string of local bloody murders.
Inertia’s Insight: Adaptations are often a difficult translation, as often the most important elements that necessitate the progress of the story in the novel are apt to become an impossible hurdle when committing it to celluloid. But with the writer of the original novel wielding the pen and a dramatic king at the helm, Let the Right One In is the deserved interpretation of Ajvide Lindqvist’s superb novel.
12-year-old Oskar is a bullied, troubled young kid. Picked on at school and nicknamed ‘Pig’, we first see him confidently rehearsing a confrontation with his bullies, armed with a small flip knife. At school, however, his confidence has all but disappeared. Seemingly obsessed with local murders and collecting news articles about murders in a scrapbook, its fair to say that Oskar is bordering We Need to Talk About Kevin territory. Caught stabbing the tree in rehearsed revenge by the new neighbour Eli, he is initially reticent to establish any form of relationship with her; but the mystery and intrigue of the neighbour that only comes out at night is just too much for Oskar to resist.
Alfredson’s direction is exquisite. He paints the Sweden of Oskar’s youth as cold and large, with wide shots showing his distance from most people or items in is life. The introduction to Eli gives us a sense of her mystery, that there is something else to her that we’re yet to explore.
The interesting maneuver is to make Håkan the evil in this film. As Eli’s situation is explored and revealed to Oskar, we understand her need; the need to feed. But it’s Håkan’s way of obtaining the blood for Eli that paints him as more than the helper; he’s a sadistic killer who needs to commit this act just as much as Eli needs the end result. Håkan and Eli’s relationship is further explored in the book, but here it’s all we need to see, and it so effective and powerful, right up to the moment that we realise how dispensable he is to Eli in a shocking and scary scene that Alfredson nails with the most beautiful lighting.
Eli is everything that Oskar has been waiting for – an ally against the bullies and the adults that don’t understand him. She’s a mystery but she’s willing to open herself to him, and she empowers him in his battle against the school bullies. To see Oskar’s transformation at the hands of Eli can’t help but make you smile yet its macabre, in the way that she justifies violence in Oskar, a kid already wielding a flip knife at a tree. His confidence is boosted, and the scene in which he asks her to ‘go steady’ is so beautifully juvenile; despite Eli’s age and all that she has seen, she still retains a youthful innocence and though she confesses her androgyny, their relationship transcends this.
The story of Lacke at first seems to serve the fact that Eli is a vampire, but even his story becomes a personal struggle that ends in a bloody confrontation between him, Eli and Oskar. We almost feel at this point that Oskar is ready to elevate himself to Håkan’s role but his hesitation hints at his reservations, and with Eli coming to his rescue then thanking him seals their unique bond. Lacke’s story also serves the vampire narrative – though it’s a word we only hear once, the shading in Eli’s apartment and her need to feed on blood as well as the invitation to come in (beautifully and horrifically explored in a scene between Oskar and Eli) is obviously exploring that myth, so the scenes with Lacke and his partner in the hospital further cement this. It’s just his Van Helsing-esque attempt to slay the beast that goes awry.
The ending is an incredible piece of filmmaking. As the bullies confront Oskar in the swimming pool in a game that is almost certain to end in Oskar’s death, Eli comes to his rescue in a brutal, bloody scene that practically goes unseen. The suggestion of the mayhem going on above the water, with the odd severed limb or head is ghastly but effective. We are Oskar, eyes closed to the brutality that Eli can cause, only seeing the remnants of her actions when she has returned to her innocence. It’s impeccable action and horror.
Though there are elements missing from the book – notably Håkan’s paedophilia and Eli’s gender and backstory examined and revealed in more detail, the film doesn’t feel like it’s missing a piece. Instead, Ajvide Lindqvist was able to concentrate on the heart of the story – the love and bond between Eli and Oskar, and its this that drives the horror film with a heart.
Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *
The film takes place in 1981.
Almost every scene in the film contains the colour red, in reference to Eli’s food source.
The word vampire is only said once in the film.
The word said in morse code at the end is PUSS, which means “small kiss” in Swedish.
OSKAR: Are you a vampire?
ELI: I live off blood… yes.
OSKAR: Are you… dead?
ELI: No. Can’t you tell?
OSKAR: But… are you old?
ELI: I’m twelve. But I’ve been twelve for a long time.
Plot According to Google: A group of misguided animal rights activists free a caged chimp infected with the “Rage” virus from a medical research lab. When London bike courier Jim wakes up from a coma a month after, he finds his city all but deserted. On the run from the zombie-like victims of the Rage, Jim stumbles upon a group of survivors including Selena and cab driver Frank, and joins them on a perilous journey to what he hopes will be safety.
Inertia’s Insight: Often praised as re-birthing the zombie genre for modern times, 28 Days Later re-established the conventions of the post-apocalyptic zombie narrative and in doing so it brought a swathe of new titles and interpretations with it, including another stab by the Godfather himself with Land of the Dead (2005).
A group of animal rights activists break into a research laboratory in order to free the captive animals. Despite the scientists’ warnings that the chimps are infected with an incredibly strong rage virus, they release them anyway and in doing so, they set in motion a cataclysmic chain of events in which 99% of the population become infected with a deadly rage virus.
The opening is brutal, establishing the basics of the infection and showing just how quickly the virus can take hold and transform someone. There’s no death and resurrection involved; it’s an infection, one that surges through the body in a matter of seconds, making you void of all emotion but pure, simple rage.
Awaking in a hospital bed, attached to machines that have long run out of juice, Jim wakes to find an empty hospital. He investigates the hospital and eventually the outside world, only to find it bereft of life. Walking across a deserted Westminster Bridge in rush hour and not seeing a soul is now an iconic image and it has an effect – every image we’ve ever seen of this famous London landmark has been steeped in traffic and people, so to see it completely deserted immediately gives us a sense of the impact of this outbreak.
As Jim investigates and finds a wall dedicated to information about the missing, we can appreciate the devastation that has wrought the country for the past 28 days. The first real brown pants scene for me is in the church. Jim has no clue what has happened, no understanding of the infected or the need to avoid them. Entering the church and seeing hundreds of bodies lying on top of each other, its the first real moment that he has to understand the reality of the situation he now faces. That shot when Jim shouts and two of the infected first look up is gloriously effective filmmaking, keeping the infected in a long shot but showing enough of them to know that they pose a danger. Jim’s confrontation with the priest and the subsequent pursuit of these fast, vicious people, saved at the last minute by Selena and Mark brings him up to speed on the new world he has awakened in.
The first true sense of his newfound life comes when he visits his parents. Its a startling awakening for the audience too, as we grasp the lengths in which people have gone in 28 days with that age old adage: fight or flight. The brutal attack that comes in the wake of that visit shows us the extent to which Selena, and ultimately Jim, will go to in order to survive. They meet Frank and his daughter Hannah, and from a scratchy, intermittent radio broadcast from the military, they decide to head for safety.
The beauty of this film is Boyle’s decision to shoot digitally. By doing so, he removes all of the glossy glean and instead we are left with a raw, grainy, shaky and real imagery that immerses you in to the film. It’s a terrifying experience at times, particularly with the tight shaky movements when depicting the speed of the infected, but it also plays to Boyle’s advantage when showing the lighter side of the apocalypse. The scene in which Jim, Selena, Hannah and Frank sit at a ruin and eat a picnic makes the countryside look glorious, with the horses running free in the distance.
Boyle, a relative newcomer to the world of horror, absolutely nails this film. Some of the imagery – Jim on Westminster Bridge, the infected in the church, the dream sequence, the shadows on the wall of the tunnel, the stark close-ups of the infected – is exquisite, and does more to terrify than any gruesome death scene.
As with any post-apocalyptic future in which there are no rules or governance, the survivors are apt to struggle for power and in doing so become the monsters that they are fighting against. The arrival of two women at an all-male military compound sets into motion a chain of events that transforms Jim from confused patient in an empty hospital to a feral defender that resembles the infected to the point that Selena nearly kills him.
28 Days Later is now 14 years old (!) but will be a timeless horror in the vein of Night of the Living Dead – a resurgent zombie film in which the infected bring to light the true terror of the human nature. A first-class film from Boyle and Garland that ushered in the ‘fast’ zombie and sparked the new trend that, 14 years on, shows no signs of dying.
Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *
Athletes were cast as the Infected because of how important physicality is to them.
The film was shot almost entirely in sequence.
The symbol for the film is the international symbol for blood-borne biohazards.
Rendering the zombie movie more contemporary, Boyle and Garland made the virus affect people psychologically as opposed to physically. The virus makes people rage, drawing on societal norms like road rage, air rage, hospital rage, etc.
SELENA: Have you got any plans, Jim? Do you want us to find a cure and save the world or just fall in love and fuck? Plans are pointless. Staying alive is as good as it gets.
JIM: What about the government?
SELENA: There’s no government.
JIM: Of course there’s a government! There’s always a government. They’re in a bunker or a plane.
MARK: No, there’s no government. No police. No army. No TV. No radio. No electricity. You’re the first uninfected person we’ve seen in six days.
Plot According to Google: In an America ravaged by crime and overcrowded prisons, the government sanctions an annual 12-hour period during which all criminal activity – including murder – is legal. James Sandin and his family face the ultimate test when an intruder drags the vicious outside world into their own. James, Mary and their two children struggle to survive the night while trying not to turn into monsters like the ones they are striving to avoid.
Inertia’s Insight: This modern world is full of pain – crime, war, murder, death, destruction and the decay of society. It’s not difficult to see this from what has been committed in 2016 so far, and with one of the most powerful countries in the world now touting a flagrant, narcissistic, poisonous racist as a contender for leader of the free world, it almost feels like director James DeMonaco prematurely tapped in to the dystopian future that possibly awaits us come November 8th: a future in which all crime, including murder, becomes legal for 12 hours; the perfect opportunity for society to balance itself out, for the rich to be able to feed off the poor…
It’s a brilliant concept, prime horror that is rife to be explored. Naturally as it’s the first film it explores the theme in a secluded and tight setting, in the family home of the Sandin’s. James Sandin works for a company that provides security provisions for Purge night for those that can afford it. If you have the money to install window bars and door shutters with a full CCTV security system, then James is your man. If you can’t, well – you’re fucked.
There’s animosity right from the beginning as his neighbour’s make reference to his wealth at the hands of the Purge, their contempt hiding behind a thinly veiled smile and a tray of fresh-baked cookies. As James and his family batten down the hatches and settle in for a night of safety as the world goes mad outside, there’s a discussion on the morality of what the night represents. It’s here that you can see the potential for this idea, to bore a franchise out of a genuinely relative moral tale of our times: the country has benefited from the Purge as crime is down, unemployment is down and the country is financially stable. But what is the true cost of this night? It’s something that you feel should be explored more in this film that is left for potential (and then real) sequels.
Naturally, as it is apt to do, their plan goes awry. Not only do they have to contend with an unexpected guest that a group of vicious, sadistic upper class psycho’s are pursuing, there’s also the added problem of daughter Zoey’s boyfriend wanting to confront her Father about their relationship with a couple of led pellets. Just when the Sandin’s think the night couldn’t get any worse, it appears their neighbours’ also had a few ideas of their own for the evening…
Containing the action to one environment serves DeMonaco well, not only for budget but also for the tension; when there’s not many places to hide, the claustrophobia sets in, and as people are coming at them from all sides with no outside help, the hysteria ratchets up a notch. It’s impressive direction from DeMonaco, who utilises the CCTV angles to his advantage, enabling him to frame the killers in a twisted fishbowl eyepiece frame. He doesn’t hold back on the blood either, with Ethan Hawke turning in a superb performance as a Father who will defend his family in any way that he can. Similarly, Rhys Wakefield puts in a terrifying and sinister performance as Donald Trump’s son – sorry, as the Polite Leader that poses a threat to James and his family. His perfect smile that hints at the menace he shows himself capable of is worthy of a place on the mantlepiece of modern horror villains.
The masks are an added touch of genius – you’d think at first that any kind of masking of identity wouldn’t be required as all their darkest desires are legal in this 12-hour window, but as explained in the Trivia below, the masks are more about the enjoyment of the act. People that Purge treat this like Halloween; it’s an event to get dressed up for, to bring out your alternative personality and to present that with a literal face.
The ending is superb and darkly cold, unexpected for its subversion of our expectations. We see the full potential of the Purge night outside when it finishes, and whilst their own personal horror has formed the basis of this entertaining and at times thrilling film, you can’t help but feel that you wanted to be outside seeing what carnage was bathing the city streets in blood.
The mere fact that Donald Trump is running for the Presidency of the United States suggests the possibility that something like the Purge could really happen. After all, he and his son do kind of look like Founding Fathers that would stay at home at their well-secured mansion whilst peasants and Clinton supporters are brought to them for a ritual sacrifice. This pertinence, coupled with the fact that this concept can be delved and mined for years to come, marks this film as the benchmark for great films to come; it just falls slightly short itself in being a perfect film.
Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * *
The film takes place in 2022.
The Annual Purge falls on March 22nd. The day before is March 21st, or in American dating, ‘321’.
The are six sirens when the purge opens, and seven when it closes.
The purpose of the masks was for them to resemble Halloween masks, a metaphor for the fact that some people see the Purge as a holiday of celebration.
NEWSCASTER: Incoming reports show this year’s Purge has been the most successful to date, with the most murders committed.
JAMES SANDIN: Tonight allows people a release for all the hatred and violence that they keep inside them.
CHARLIE SANDIN: Why don’t you guys kill someone tonight?
JAMES SANDIN: Because we don’t feel the need to, Charlie.