The First Purge (2018): A Template Tale (Review)

The First Purge

The First Purge may feel like “Billy Jack ”  without the hat and the protagonist is a caring and sharing neighborhood drug lord, but it really aims for much higher ideals. Trotting out the tropes of “you cannot trust the government and that all people of color, even those of oriental descent, are to be exterminated with extreme prejudice, The First Purge follows its own template yet again.

All of the films in this popular franchise are carbon copies of each other. Albeit slightly different directions are taken in each iteration. However, apart from the tendency to stick with one small group throughout, the film offers the same overall theme: That government want to clear out the “minorities” and the ghettos via “The Purge.”

Written by James DeMonaco and directed by Gerard McMurray, The First Purge stars the heart stoppingly beautiful and abundantly talented Lee Scott Davis and features a biggish cameo by the evergreen Marisa Tomei. The film  tries to offer an insight to all that mercenary involvement that features heavily in the other installments of the franchise.

Unfortunately, the entire thing  feels like a template from the other films that followed the first offering back in 2013. With a final message (Spoiler Alert) of your local crime lord caring more for his fellow downtrodden and impoverished neighbors than the cold hearted government (read Donald Trump’s cabinet and the Republican Party here) the timing of this tale is, perhaps, too close for comfort.

While it strains believability, the film does throw shade on the current government. That being said, the earlier installments also cocked a snook at the establishment. One that was headed by then president Barrack Obama. So the message, which feels quite relevant now, is still trodding the path of good old Billy Jack: “We cannot trust government” or “the Man.”

(Or as the outlaw Josie Wales tells the Cherokee chief in the film of the same name – “Looks like we can’t trust the white man.”)

All racial aspects aside, and political relevancy ignored, The First Purge offers an almost eerily correct picture of the current government in the United States of America. We never see the president, but we hear the one-sided sycophantic conversation that the leader of the social experiment passes on to the “current leader” before sending Marisa Tomei’s character out to be shot in the head.

By the end of the film one feels that nothing is really new here. McMurray and DeMonaco both lead the audience in the same direction as previous offerings in the franchise. No one, in terms of the cast, really stands out. Y’lan Noel (as Dimitri) is limited by the script and Mugga  plays a role that, in earlier years, would have been filled by Octavia Spencer

Overall, The First Purge is not quite mutton dressed as lamb but it lacks the enjoyment level of the other offerings in this violent and, perhaps, prophetic set of films. The message is the same in this template tale of big brother murdering the lower classes and while the presence of Aunt May helps to a degree it is not enough to save this one from a certain mediocrity and mendacity.

(On a side note: The colored contacts that the “players” wear, is never really utilized to its full potential. It makes the purge participants look like zombies, to a degree, but it, in the end, detracts from the action.)

The First Purge is a three star offering; a stale and repeated tale without the personal touches of previous films in the franchise. Fans may enjoy it, although I am admittedly a fan of all the previous films and found it a bit…hum-drum, but this is one to view via DVD or streaming. Seeing it in the cinema is not recommended as this film follows the same old template ad nauseam….

The Purge: Election Year (2016) Republican Paradise (Review)

The Purge

Written and directed by James DeMonaco, The Purge: Election Year sees the return of Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) and the end to a short, successful franchise.  In this last visit to a country that takes a note from an old Star Trek episode “Return of the Archons” – where Landru lets its people legally murder, maim and rape for a few hours – things appear to wrap up nicely. 

Senator Charlie Roan (played by the brilliant Elizabeth Mitchell who was so wasted in her role on the Freeform horror snooze-fest “Dead of Summer“) is against the whole purge night scenario. Mainly because she watched her entire family die at the hands of a purge participant as a teen. 

Roan is getting quite a following from people who also want to see The Purge disbanded. The opposing party, the NFFA (New Founding Father’s of America,  want the senator silenced and the film follows her escape from the opposition party as well as the group of people who struggle to keep the senator alive.

DeMonaco takes this last in the trilogy towards a new direction. He focusses on the “bigger picture” this time around and while we do follow a group of disparate strangers struggling to survive the night it is more about the politics behind The Purge.

Linking the NFFA party to the current Republican party, whose values do seem disturbingly similar to the film’s politico’s way of thinking, was a masterful touch. In a year where America’s “King George” (Donald Trump) was elected president it feels particularly apt.

The Purge franchise has always been about killing off the lower classes. In each film, it is the moneyed classes who do the most killing. While the focus is on the ethnic minorities being allowed to murder their fellow citizens, this time around the process has been given a religious connotation.

Leo Barnes, who was so pro-purge in the second film, is back and he is the Senator’s head of security.  He is also a bono-fide tough guy whose mission, throughout the film, is to protect Roan. Barnes is also against The Purge this time around.

DeMonaco moved to end the franchise with this film but with the current political climate in America it seems almost a certainty that there could well be a fourth installment in this cynical and entertaining horror tale.

Looking at the reasoning behind The Purge program which is about saving money on health care programs, food stamps and low income housing (only to apparently spend a fortune on rebuilding structures damaged by the widespread mayhem) it matches the Republican party’s mission statement and intent perfectly.

So why not have The Purge 4? It could be titled “The Trump Years” and feature the players from the current POTUS’ cabinet who are trying so hard to punish the poor for their lack of status. (While greasing the palms of those who lavishly gave donations to the Republican party.)

Armchair politics aside, The Purge: Election Year is a solid 4 star film. It loses a star for basically taking us back to the same story yet again, and for that botched practical stunt in front of the deli.

*The two schoolgirls who return to kill the owner and take a candy bar are struck down by Laney (Betty Gabriel) and her van. The “bride” and her mate are both run over and the vehicle drags them both underneath its carriage. However…The bride is then shown being knocked onto the windscreen of a parked car, which would only happen with a glancing blow.*

There are other things wrong with the film in terms of plot holes and so on but the film is worth watching and does entertain. It features a lot of violence, some cursing and absolutely no nudity.

Face Off: Sinister Showdown Part 2 (Review)

Face Off - Season 10

The “Face Off” season 10 finale “Sinister Showdown Part Two” proved a brilliant point; specialist makeup only  really works as part of a whole. Certainly the look, on its own, is impressive and does look “real”  in the flesh, so to speak.  However, the entire concept of the show is “movie” makeup and the last challenge, the actual filming of the creations, manages to show this brilliantly.

It is how the characters look in the final product that counts. While the judges normally look at the finished creations up close in the earlier challenges, they see them on-screen for this last effort.

The three finalists all created great demons and possessed characters as mandated by the challenge.  Each team’s effort looked brilliant, both in the screen tests and under natural light as they walked to the sets.

“Hellhole,” the basic title of each short film, used three different directors for each vision. The script came from a Blumhouse Productions book of stories from a short story by Christopher Denham.  Jason Blum, the chap who puts the Blum in Blumhouse, provided the script source material and judged with the series panel of regulars.

Face Off - Season 10
(l-r) McKenzie Westmore, Glenn Hetrick, Ve Neill, Neville Page, Jason Blum

Last week, “Sinister Showdown Part One” saw the directors, Bryce McGuire, John Wynn and Ryan Spindell spend time with their respective teams and work on concept and then perform a screen-test on the creations.

Out of the trio of artists left, Rob had feedback from his director, McGuire, that resulted in enormous amounts of work to fix the problems. Walter’s creation was loved on sight by Spindell and Wynn wanted very little to be changed on Melissa’s characters.

Rob historically performs better under pressure.  While all the creatures looked brilliant, it was the youngest contestant’s demon and possessed character that leapt off the screen in the final product. The series judges watched the movies as they were being shot and all the entries looked spectacular “in the process.”

Walter’s huge vine creature was impressively scary, as as Melissa’s cyclops creature,  but it was Rob’s horned demon and his “Japanese-type” possessed female (term coined by Glenn Hetrick) that won at the end of the day.

Face Off - Season 10
(l-r) Rob Seal, Kaleb Lewis
Face Off - Season 10
Anna Cali

The fun part of the “Face Off” season finale is the artists and their reactions to being part of the movie-making world. This is, after all, their main motivation for competing, over and above the awards; the money, car and makeup.  The enthusiasm is infectious as is the excitement felt by the contestants.

All three were ecstatic about seeing their work being filmed and then watching the final product with all the CG  as well as  FX and cohesive storyline and dialogue.  It is this part that proves just how essential the entire package of lighting, atmosphere, camera angles and direction are to the characters created by the artists.

Walter, Melissa and Rob created impressively scary creations and all looked  brilliant during the filming portion. However, it was the magic of the seemingly picky McGuire that made Rob’s “less is more” creations literally “pop” off the screen.

Face Off - Season 10
Rob Seal, Melissa Ebbe, Walter Welsh

Walter’s creature lost something in the CG heavy short helmed by Spindell. The ‘B’ movie  FX and overly bright lighting  took away from both his characters effectiveness despite his demon being terrifying in the final shot.

Melissa’ creation was brilliant but camera angles let the side down here.

It was Rob’s perfect makeup combined with McGuire’s spot on lighting, camera angles, framing and focus on the minimal; a look Bryce  asked for after the screen test, that sold the artist’s work.

Rob Seal won this challenge not just for his superlative makeup work, but also for getting a director who understood how to marry up the entire sum of parts to make a brilliant whole.  Great season 10 finale “Face Off.”

Hellevator: Not Just a J-Horror Film Ask the Twisted Twins

Jen and Sylvia Soska promoting See No Evil 2
In 2004 a group of university students made a film for their final project. Titled Hellevator, aka Gusha no bindume (quite possibly inspired by the 1997 film Cube) the low budget film entertains fully and takes place almost entirely in an elevator. This J-Horror became a cult hit and now the Twisted Twins, Jen and Sylvia Soska are a part of a new game show with the same name, Deadline states that the show will “feature” the twins. The article does not specify whether the twins will be hosting the show or not.

Jen and Sylvia Soska are filmmakers who brought the world Dead Hooker in a Trunk, American Mary, See No Evil 2 and Vendetta and also work as actors and writers. Their films are raw, edgy and full of the obligatory gore that all horror movies need to satisfy hardcore fans. American Mary, starring Katharine Isabelle became an immediate cult classic and the two directors put their personal stamp on every project they make. Their segment of The ABCs of Death 2,T is for Torture Porn was banned in Germany, but for those who do not live in the Fatherland, the short film screams Twisted Twins from the very first frame.

Sylvia and Jen are favorites at horror cons and their fans adore them. So far in 2015, the two women are branching out into other forms of media with their unique style of horror. GSN have greenlit a new game show set around the horror genre and it will be produced by the folks who brought the world Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister and The Purge.

According to press releases, three contestants will enter an elevator. The car will stop at a number of floors and one player will leave the lift to face a “scary” challenge, which must be won in a set time period be left behind. If the player wins, a certain amount of money is earned for the small team of three.

Jason Blum, executive producer on the upcoming project, says he has wanted to do something like this for years and promises that it will “scare the living hell” out of folks. Todd Lubin, another executive producer for the show says that it will be a unique experience for contestants who will suddenly find themselves in a horror story.

While it has not been revealed just what the twins will be doing on the show, if they work behind the scenes it will indeed be scary and different. Fans of the twins will be excited to learn of their involvement in the new horror themed game show and this is yet another chance for the talented duo to show just how scary they can be.

The fact that the show is named after a low budget student film set in an elevator which became a cult J-Horror classic is a touch that is just too good to be true. Of course the name, Hellevator, could be a serendipitous coincidence but with Jen and Sylvia Soska being involved it may be that the show’s title is a nod to that unique and brilliant little “student film.”