Blockbuster Diary, Part Seven: "The Purge"
I woke up Saturday morning dreading the thought of having to waste two hours of my life watching “The Internship.” When I signed up to do this blockbuster diary series, I knew I was going to have to see some atrocious films, but a week after “After Earth,” I wasn’t sure I could stomach watching Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play middle-aged Google interns. But then something wonderful happened. I thought to myself, “Why don’t I just check how the movie’s doing, maybe it’s doing so bad at the box office that I won’t have to see it.” And sure enough, it was. The $58 million buddy pic was on pace for a tepid debut, and to add insult to injury, it looked as if it was going to be destroyed by the bargain-priced genre flick, “The Purge.”
I should get this out now: I really don’t like horror films. In all honesty, I can’t think of one I’ve ever wanted to see. Plus, gore and extreme violence, both of which horror films tend to be stuffed with, don’t do it for me. So, while I was glad to avoid watching Vaughn and Wilson act like fools, I wasn’t overjoyed at the prospect of seeing James DeManaco’s film. But it turned out that the film, which stars Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, was kind of fun, which can’t be said for many of the films released earlier this season.
It helps that “The Purge” has a great premise: in the near future, America is all but free of crime, because the Tea Party-like New Founding Fathers have instituted The Purge, one day each year when all crime is legal. It’s also an extremely fast moving film, foregoing character development that might bore you. Plus, for the squeamish out there, it’s relatively gore-free, although it’s plenty creepy (those masks!). That’s not enough to overcome the fact that it’s frequently dumb — there’s laughing at campiness of a movie, and then there’s laughing at the stupidity of it — and racially problematic (or, at least, not prepared to deal with some issues it creates for itself), but it will occasionally make you jump out of your seat. It’s a genre film after all, and though there are hints that it’s striving for more, it never quite gets there, even if it does provide some actual thrills.
What’s most interesting about the film is not the film itself, but how it did at the box office last weekend. Costing a mere $3 million to make, “The Purge” ended up grossing $36.4 million, making it the top earning film of the weekend, easily topping, in order, “Fast & Furious 6,” “Now You See Me,” and “The Internship.” “The Purge” nearly doubled projections for the weekend too, which, according to the Hollywood Reporter, were $20 million (that alone would have made for a great debut). It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it was about the film that led to it’s shocking over performance, but it certainly didn’t hurt that it’s one of the only horror films being released this summer. Its ad campaign was unusually effective, too, focusing on the simple, horrifying imagery of the film’s villains. Plus, even before this weekend, buzz for “The Internship,” the one high profile release of the weekend, seemed half hearted at best. Was anyone clamoring for a zany Vaughn and Wilson movie? Apparently not.
But what I think really helped (and this relates to something we wrote about in this space a couple weeks ago) is that “The Purge” was different than most summer fare. It’s not a sequel, a superhero epic, or a huge explosion-filled action fest. The film’s box office performance will (and probably should) be viewed as an aberration by the studios, but maybe, just maybe, it’ll push someone to actually take a chance with their next tent pole flick. Unlikely, but one can hope.
Director: James DeMonaco
Writer: James DeMonaco
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey
Opening Week Gross: $36.4 million