A film that ironically purges itself of any real satire or commentary, despite its promising setting. Opening in the near future in America, the country’s crime rate has dropped to almost zero due to an ongoing successful social experiment whereby, for one day of the year, any and all crime is legalised, with no emergency services available for the twelve hour period concerned, and no repercussions of any kind allowed to follow activities undertaken during the anarchic period. The exceptions to this rule are a weapons grade restriction, and immunity for political figures who have a ranking of ‘ten’ or above, for reasons of national security of course, not because they don’t want to be targets for rape, murder and mutilation. Also, restricting their own illegal activities to just one day in the year may have been a little far fetched even for the film.
It’s from Blumhouse productions, the studio behind the ‘Paranormal Activity’ franchise whose last output, ‘Dark Skies’, did leave Red Dragon wondering what direction they would take their work hence, in order that it survive the endless repetition of their trademark techniques. So, the beginning of this attempt certainly had a lot of promise, a sanctioned explosion and indulgence in anything the human psyche could conceive, one even publicly encouraged by society’s leaders and law makers, suggesting everyone revel in order to ‘purge’ themselves of natural primitive desires – especially intriguing with the billing of lead actors Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, who is an actor that certainly doesn’t shy away from twisted character portrayals, as evinced by her work on ‘Game of Thrones’ and as lead villain Ma-Ma in last year’s ‘Dredd’ (which was really good incidentally, even though no one went to see it).
Unfortunately, what unfolds is yet another ‘family under peril in their own home’ scenario, exactly like all of Jason Blum’s previous films. It even still features more overuse of security cameras, with the young boy in the house operating a remote controlled one in several scenes, to very little effect in terms of the tension. Everything pans out very, very predictably as it devolves into a simple action movie with the family trying to survive. Some of the action is very pointedly set up at the beginning with one of the neighbours complaining that the new extension to Hawke and Headey’s house has effectively been paid for by the rest of the neighbourhood, them all having bought security systems from the family’s business, and that a lot of them are not happy about it. It’s completely ridiculous, as if they only sold security to that one street, or everyone else in their enormous houses are so poor they can’t afford to do the same thing, or that they were even forced to buy from them for that matter – it’s not like the basic principles of business have changed in this jointly dystopian and utopian future.
It is successful in creating a certain amount of dark atmosphere, and the initial story was a great place to start, but everything else is pretty disappointing, and it still features main characters doing ridiculous things sure to endanger everyone, in true horror film style. Michael Bay is also listed as one of the producers (he co-owns the production company Platinum Dunes which predominantly works on horror films), and it is difficult to say how much overall influence Blumhouse had over the final cut, but given the end product, and the fact they make a big deal of marketing ‘from the producers of Paranormal Activity’, it’s probably fair to assume they had the lion’s share of influence on the film. They certainly found a writer/director with a suitable name to tie in with their image – James DeMonaco, for whom this is his second time behind the camera, though he has notable previous writing credits with ‘The Negotiator’(98) and ‘Assault on Precinct 13’(05).