Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Purge

Despite a minuscule budget of only three million, The Purge received quite a lot of pre-release hype. Part of this (of course) is attributed to actor Ethan Hawke’s participation. After the critical success of both Daybreakers and Sinister, Hawke seems to know how to pick them. Another element to the excitement is the intriguing and original premise: an amalgamation of horror and (not-too-distant) science fiction that seems right at home within the pages of dystopian literature.  

It’s the year 2022, and the United States of America has found a way to curtail excessive crime and overpopulation. On one night every year (over a twelve hour period) all criminal activity is sanctioned ... including murder. Punishment is suspended and violence reigns supreme. This annual - and supposedly cathartic experience – has been aptly titled The Purge. Through news blips and media loops we quickly discover that despite the moral implications, The Purge is actually effective: for the remaining year misdemeanors remain almost non-existent. Apparently, the simple answer to humanity’s psychological tribulation is a united mental enema of depravity; an abandoning of all civilized behavior in favor of our ingrained base needs and ancestral animal instincts.

If all of this sounds a tad implausible, it is. However, in this particular instance I was happy to suspend all disbelief for the sake of entertainment.  While it would have been interesting to look at the worldwide effect of The Purge, writer/director James Demonaco has opted instead to take a close look at the domestic component – to put under the microscope one well-to-do American family and see what mayhem eschews. The Sandin family – an envy of their entire neighborhood – have everything they need to survive. James (Ethan Hawke) knows security intimately. After all, he sells it for a living. His wife Mary (Lena Headey – better known as Cersei from Game of Thrones), is effective at keeping both her American accent and family together. Teenage children Charlie and Zoey come with their own baggage: Charlie has major issues with The Purge, and his sister Zoey is fuming her father won’t let her date an older boy from school. Soon night draws near and the shutters go up. When young Charlie succumbs to his warring empathy and opens up their house to a pursued homeless man, it isn't long before all hell breaks loose from numerous fronts. The homeless victim has escaped in the house, and his masked vigilante hunters (looking for all the world like The Stranger’s home invaders on steroids) have arrived on the front doorstep demanding their god-given American right to purge. It then falls to the entire Sandin clan to make a decision: do they succumb to the invaders ultimatum - thereby becoming no better than Purge participants – or do they fight to keep their ethics alive?

Notwithstanding a director at the helm who has worked with similar themes before (Assault on Precinct 13), The Purge still suffers from various flaws. The pacing – while lent strength with a rousing ‘heartbeat’ soundtrack – never seems to attain the lofty heights we originally envisioned, and developments become stalled as the audience guesses hurdle after hurdle. Although our masked adversary is decidedly creepy at times espousing patriotic rhetoric and generally giving off an American Psycho kind of vibe, his predictable bedlam comes far too late in the film and is ultimately ineffective.

All told, The Purge is still an above average thriller containing just enough claustrophobic moments and subtle action sequences to put it on the map. With Universal already giving the follow up a green light, one can hope future writers take heed of the wonky philosophic undertones and give more credence to The Purge’s attractive concept.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013


From the somewhat vague synopsis provided by other media, a viewer may garner the opinion Chained might be something akin to a (low budget) gritty urban thriller along the lines of Michael Mann’s Collateral. However, such notions are quickly dispelled as we bear witness to a terrified adolescent male rummaging through a box containing female identification cards. When a doorbell suddenly rings and the child looks up fraught, it doesn’t take a sleuth to ascertain a serial killer is about to enter the fray. Enter he does, and soon we have reached the garish conclusion Chained will rapidly descend into the most taboo strictures of film-making; that any allusions of a crime/thriller are wholly discarded as the child cowers in fear and the screams of a new victim are heralded through the walls. Who is this child? And how did he come to be in such depraved circumstances?  

Cut to eight weeks earlier and Tim (our future captive), is taking in a movie with his mother. Afterward – and at the behest of his father – both mother and son enter a cab and make for home. But the mundane ride back takes macabre twist when taxi-cab driver Bob - a mentally unstable killer played by Vincent D’Onofrio – decides to make little Tim’s mother his next unwitting victim. Forced to endure Bob’s depravity up close and personal, Tim is suddenly orphaned and in the lair of a maniac. Our killer, having done his deed, sees the presence of the child as a new-found opportunity. Does he use little Tim as a mere slave to help him in his daily carnage? Or does he decide to do something even more sinister ... to mold Tim like clay in his image; to make the boy a protégé out of untarnished innocence and teach him the art of death. 

It’s an original premise, and before going any further we must shine the spotlight on the director: Jennifer Chambers Lynch – a surname synonymous with surrealist film-making. After the debacle of her debut Boxing Helena, Jennifer fled the broad audience and delved into more minor pursuits ... reminiscent, perhaps, of her father David. While Chained reflects nothing of David’s unique – some would say Lynchian - cinematic style, it is still imbued with enough disturbing and violent moments to warrant a small comparison. Shot in a mere fourteen days, Jennifer’s technique is domestic, claustrophobic, and all too real. With only two central characters, this is the sort of get-under-your-skin creepiness that leaves a lasting impression. 

Fast forward to many years later and little Timmy is all grown up. Now resembling a gaunt rock star, mentor Bob continues his slow methodology of indoctrination. Given the dehumanizing nickname of ‘Rabbit’, our padawan-in-training still retains his adolescent conscience and mild mannered innocence. Rewarded accordingly – and metered out with punishment in the same token – little Rabbit tries to find a subtle chink in Bob’s armor ... a monumental task given that Bob (living in rural isolation and anonymity) has perfected his killing art.

To call this film ‘unrelenting’ is an understatement – and it’s outings like Chained that reinforce something the collective horror tribe has always known: you do not need a monumental budget or prestigious studio backing to create an indie masterpiece. The only flaw – and with a second viewing I had grave doubts it was a flaw – was a shocking ‘twist’ ending that’s almost an unnecessary addition. It’s a small blemish, because the rest of the film is faultless in almost every department. Here, Jennifer Lynch translates our real-world horrors with skill and dexterity, and we can only hope this director decides to call horror her home.

Monday, June 3, 2013


It's finally here - the first of a trilogy. Get your copy in paperback and ebook: Dark Meridian

The story continues in OLEARIA (2014) and THE HOPE OF KINFOLD. (2015). 

"Inventive and suspenseful, Dark Meridian is a story of epic proportions, told in Tait's distinctive, genre blending style."

-Tracie McBride, author of Ghosts Can Bleed