New York Stories – The Purge / Maniac / Black Rock

The Purge

By Glenn Dunks
June 19, 2013

There’s a wide world of cinema out there, and Quickflix’s Glenn Dunks is on the ground in New York City bringing you the titles that will soon be seen in Australian cinemas, and eventually available on home entertainment.

The Manhattan Report: Horror: it’s everywhere over here. Including the three reviewed below, I’ve seen more new release horror in my first few months of living in America than I had in the entire last 12 months in Australia. The Purge debuted at number one at the box office, broke records, and continued Ethan Hawke’s unexpected ascension as the go-to patriarchal lead of the genre (Patrick Wilson will be contesting that crown soon with Insidious: Chapter 2 and The Conjuring), and yet likely won’t see the light of day in Australia for a very long time. Just look at Sinister, which took eight months to reach Aussie cinemas. Or Texas Chainsaw 3D, which has no release to date despite opening at No. 1 in January (doesn’t help that it is just the worst). And then there is the Video on Demand market that has seen Australian titles Errors of the Human Body, Crawl, and 100 Bloody Acres reach American audiences long before they do local crowds. It’s positively horrifying.

The Purge

The Purge: High concept and low stakes in James DeMonaco’s sophomore effort, The Purge. What begins with potential ultimately descends into a tiresome effort that does little to reinvigorate the home invasion sub-genre. It’s a smarter film than it ought to be; it’s just not as smart as it thinks it is, and that’s a big problem when it raises so much overt satire. Issues of class, race, and gender are right there for everybody to see, but they’re fumbled like footballs and are mere window-dressing for a lack of effective scares.

Set in an implausible future, America has created a night where all violence is legal from 7pm to 7am. This initiative has created one per cent unemployment, record low crime, and a happy economy, so the government is pleased. What isn’t mentioned is what all those police and lawyers now do with so little work to do. Issues like these are what goes through the mind while watching The Purge as it feebly attempts to recreate The Strangers (its most obvious kinship, although there are many others). A last minute plot swerve shows potential; however, like the rest of The Purge, it’s mishandled. (No local release slated at this time.)

2.5/5

Maniac

Maniac: Is Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac really a remake of the 1980 flick of the same name or just festering off of its reputation? It shares little in common with William Lustig’s terrifying portrait of urban decay and menace other than a serial killer who collects women’s scalps as fancy headwear for his collection of mannequins. Amongst this new version’s several key differences include switching from the rotten New York City of the late ‘70s to the shiny lights of Los Angeles, replacing the shlumpy lead with the svelte Elijah Wood, altering story elements, and – most glaringly – placing it in the first person. What Wood’s murdering madman sees, we see. It’s a novel storytelling device, but one that lends an off-putting misogynistic quality that is hard to shake.
This French production was spear-headed by producer and co-writer Alexandre Aja and its European qualities are unmistakable, including an opening sequence that looks and sound just like Drive. Intentional or not, it’s just one of many things about this production that is poorly conceived. Extremely gruesome for dubious entertainment value rather than anything genuinely scary, Maniac offers none of the suffocating dread of the original. It exists just to watch doe-eyed hobbit Elijah Wood play in the CGI blood department and is a disappointing failure. (No local release slated at this time.)

1.5/5

Black Rock

Black Rock: A lo-fi thriller with mumblecore pedigree heavily indebted to John Boorman’s Deliverance, Katie Aselton’s Black Rock takes three realistic, flawed women and plunges them into an all too imaginable nightmare. Pitted against three former soldiers on an isolated island where the woman are attempting to rekindle their childhood friendship, Aselton’s direction of Mark Duplass’ screenplay strips the genre to the bare essentials (figuratively and literally during a prolonged nude sequence that isn’t at all exploitative).

Much like The Purge, Black Rock is a brief take on the kill-or-be-killed survival story. Unlike The Purge, however, its success lies in its relatively simple storytelling and unfussy direction. Many will take issue with its dialogue-heavy first half and streamlined climax. I admired the way it kept me on edge thanks to its sheer level-headedness. One surprising shift mid-movie works remarkably well at unsettling the natural order of this genre’s expectations, and the atmospheric location makes for a tensely navigated slice of genre fare. (No local release slated at this time.)

4/5

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