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Saturday, 21 February 2015

PURGE (2010)

Every now and again a film comes to my attention which serves to remind me that there are filmmakers who are still willing push the boundaries of filming and storytelling. These efforts may not always work, indeed the contemporary Indie movie scene is frankly awash with examples of work that fail to come even close to achieving much in the sense of quality or enjoyment. But you know what, at least they are having a go - and sometimes they succeed.

Earlier this week I was contacted via my website at http://stuartandrew86.wix.com/fifth-dimension (brought to your attention by Stuey's Shameless promotion Inc.). -  Please note: there are other Sci-fi, horror & fantasy websites & blogs available.......however they are no where near as good as mine (well somebody has to say it & it may as well be me). The contact came all the way from down-under (now please, clean your mind out), to be precise from an Australian author and filmmaker, David King.

I'll be honest with you straight away, two things leaped out and grabbed my interest from David's request. In fact, if this new fangled truth talking habit of mine is to be fully explored, they did more than grab my interest, they well and truly slapped me around the face with a wet Haddock sort of way. Let me further explain.

David informed me that he was in the process of trying to make more readers and viewers aware of a recently-published sci fi novella Outcast which is in turn based on his own ultra-low budget sci-fi feature film PURGE. He explained that both stories take place in a parallel universe where people are created by genetic engineering companies and programmed for roles in life. Now, I will mention details about the novella later in this piece, because it was the feature film that particularly caught my attention - which it did in the two aforementioned 'haddock slapped in my face sort of way'. 

Firstly there is the story's theme. It was Aldous Huxley's tale of dystopian social control 'Brave New World'  and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 that were the two significant literary obsessions for the then young sci-fi fanboy that I was. Add to that cinematic classics that dealt with the loss of individual freedom of though such as Metropolis, THX 1138 and Logan's Run and you have with each of those gems one of my favourite genre collections. So as you can imagine I was intrigued from the very start.

However, the thing that well and truly sealed the deal of my interest was being informed that the legend of film production Troma, had not only picked up the film for distribution, but that Lloyd Kaufman himself after watching the film said that he loved it and wanted to distribute it. That's only Lloyd blooming Kaufman! And if it's good enough for Mr Toxic Avenger himself, (and with it, a large number of critics and reviewers alike) then it may well be good enough for me.

However, before I bestow upon you my usual words of (ahem) wit and humour about a film that I quite simply loved, let me pass your way a little more of a synopsis type of thing.

"In the 275th Parallel Universe, a genetic engineering revolution has swept the developed world. All members of Western society are artificially created by genetic engineering companies and programmed for their roles in life.

Expressing love or concern for others is forbidden. Expressing any emotion but happiness is a sign of program breakdown. Those whose program break down are called 'Strays' and treated as criminals.

Only Strays who flee underground have a chance of survival......"


Now you may be asking yourself, If it's been critically well received and snapped up by no other than the Troma organisation, just why haven't we heard more about this film? Surely if it's that good then why is it relatively unknown by the general public? The reason I think lies in two distinctly separate parts.

The first reason originates in the format of the film itself. From the outset, I must make it abundantly clear that PURGE is not your run of the mill mainstream sci-fi fare. The film is instead, in the word of the filmmaker himself, "an experimental narrative sci-fi film made on an extremely low budget (less than AUD $30,000). It was never intended as mainstream, bums-on-seats entertainment". Now, I don't wish to come across as an elitist snob (there are many other less than flattering descriptions of me that are far more apt), but I have to admit that its rather nice to have something to watch occasionally that needs a little thought on the part of the viewer. PURGE nicely fits the bill.

For a start it's a clever and well thought out combination of a healthy dose of Utilitarian Sci-fi with an added touch or two of tasty cyberpunk as we follow the story Layla, a BDSM mistress who lives in a reality where an artificially created population have come about through genetic engineering. People simply live without choice each day, the only emotion they are allowed to exhibit is happiness because any other show of emotion is regarded as a genetic programming  malfunction. Of course, the powers that be do not react kindly to those who rebel. Layla, with the help of the mysterious androgynous Peta and the underground resistance movement begins a journey of self-awareness as she begins to question her own place in the world.

Ahh, we've all been there; Girl is fed up with her BDSM life, Girl meets girl/boy, Girl/boy attempts to help BDSM girl to deprogram. 

The plotting is nicely written and contains a wealth of interesting philosophical and psychological themes that constantly ask one to....wait for it & breathe......THINK. I know, frightening eh? Another thing that catches the eye is the way that the movie is filmed, often in in a wonderfully idiosyncratic way that borders on experimental and dare i say it....Avant-garde. It's safe to say that the effect doesn't always work, sometimes serving to detract from the plot, but in the main the style is delightfully creative and innovative.

This may be one reason as to why the film has yet to gain a firmer grasp on the public awareness - because it simply doesn't attempt to appeal to the mainstream Star Wars/Star Trek/Edge of Tomorrow audience. As I've mentioned before, please don't misunderstand this as elitist snobbery on my part, because I firmly regard myself as a fully paid up occasional member of the mainstream science fiction audience. There is a place for all types. I genuinely do believe however that people may have been put off by the terms 'experimental', 'stylised' and 'philosophical' - because while PURGE certainly does have something of an avant-garde feel to it, there is still more than enough there for it to appeal to a wider audience.

The acting, particularly from the two leads of Sarah Breen and Meda Royall are excellent - Royall in particular seems to relish her role as the androgynous and complex character of Peta. Though this is no perfect film, for the supporting cast is less assured in quality in a couple of areas, something that often occurs in micro-budget productions and seems difficult to avoid for many filmmakers . In addition, the occasional set-piece effects don't always provide the authenticity and stylised gravitas that they really should have. The result is an uneven film in parts in terms of conveying the power of what is a powerful tale.

However, these are minor detractions because there are more than enough ideas, plot devices and film trickery to make the majority of PURGE be hugely enjoyable and one can fully understand why Lloyd Kaufman and the Troma organisation decided to pick up the right to distribute it.

Which brings me onto the 2nd reason why the film may have gained critical praise, but not a wider public acclaim. My own theory that while there may be some familiar Tromaesque themes in PURGE, such as overt sexuality, sadistic violence and a strong element of surrealism, it isn't quite the graphic in-your-face-schlock-horror type of fare that is synonymous with the likes of classics such as The Toxic Avenger or The Class of Nuke 'Em High. In other words, both the mainstream Sci-Fi audience and the Troma audience (I'm happily both) may have been expecting something slightly different before seeing this movie.

The bottom line is that PURGE is a well-crafted and fascinating cinematic experience. It may not be perfect but it was far more interesting than a host of other science fiction works out there. It's simply an excellent and tasty slice of philosophical and psychological Cyberpunk!

PURGE can be found at www.amazon.com/Purge-Sarah-Breen/dp/B00AWE4DNE


THE NOVELLA



David has recently commissioned and published the book Outcast, by Marc Saville, who has written a novella based upon the film. As yet I haven't read it (time unfortunately isn't my friend at the moment) so I'll leave you with the synopsis, the link and the news that the book also has had its share of critical praise.

" To fail to assume the role you've been created for is to become a Stray and be treated worse than a criminal...which is what happens to 20-year old Layla Thomas when she becomes violently ill and is forced to flee from her sister's upmarket salon on her first day of work as a BDSM mistress-slave. The story follows her trials and tribulations as she desperately tries to return to her rightful role in society."


Those who have reviewed the novella so far include Canadian sci fi reviewer Bob Milne who was full of praise. His and other reviews can be read on the novella's Amazon site which is www.amazon.com/Outcast-Marc-Saville-ebook/dp/B00PQVW1EG 





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