Director: Antti Jokinen
Screenplay: Antti Jokinen, Marko Leino
Based on a Novel by: Sofi Oksanen
Starring: Laura Birn, Liisi Tandefelt, Amanda Pilke, Krista Kosonen, Peter Franzén
Producers: Jukka Helle, Markus Selin
Country: Finland, Estonia
Running Time: 120 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
Accepting an offer to review a screener of Finnish drama The Purge (a.k.a. Purge or Puhdistus) was a no brainer for me. My wife is a proud Finn and insists on watching any film/concert/event that makes its way over to the UK. Usually it's her that tracks these down so I get extra brownie points for finding and obtaining them myself. Add the fact that she's read the book this is based on and given that I can't always talk her into watching my usual choices of film, I replied as soon as the email from distributors Metrodome hit my inbox and requested a copy to cast my critical eye over.
The Purge opens with a bruised and battered Zara (Amanda Pilke) seeking refuge in a remote farmhouse in Estonia. Living alone in the house is the elderly Aliide (Liisi Tandefelt) who reluctantly offers her shelter. The two get talking and we learn that Zara has escaped from enslavement and abuse at the hands of a group of sex-traffickers (shown through flashbacks). A possible connection between the two women as well as familiar aspects to her story flashes Aliide back to her youth (where she's played by Laura Birn). Whilst the Communists cracked down on Fascists in Estonia during World War II, Aliide fell in love with her sister Ingel's (Krista Kosonen) fiancé Hans (Peter Franzén). In a bid to win him for herself and to survive the ongoing atrocities, she makes some painful yet selfish decisions which put her sister and niece's lives in jeopardy and haunt her several decades down the line. However, when Aliide discovers Zara's full background, she finds a way to seek redemption for her past crimes.
As is to be expected from the source material (and most Finnish dramas for that matter), The Purge is an extremely bleak film. With both women enduring some horrific sexual abuse and mental anguish, it's a tough film to get through. The grim tone is relentless and there are no moments of light to alleviate the oppression shared by the characters and audience. This of course fits the film's content, but I actually felt it maybe went a little too far. The film is so consistently brutal through its two-hour running time that it actually loses its power to shock and move as it gets into the latter third. By the end I was quite numb to it all and what was theoretically quite a powerful and affecting finale didn't really get to me as it should.
That said, the film remains powerful overall and it still stayed with me long afterwards. It is undeniably very well made too. Front and foremost are the visuals. The Purge is an absolutely stunning film to look at. The cinematography is very slick – director Antti Jokinen's past as a music video director is clear. The film is shot with a hand-held “shaky” kind of style, but with bold vivid colours and jaw-droppingly beautiful lighting. Part of me thought that maybe the glossy visuals might be another factor that lessened the impact of the harsh events unfolding on screen, but it's hard to criticise the look of the film when it's that impressive.
Being a fairly lengthy film with such downbeat subject matter, it is surprisingly gripping too. The writing is particularly strong, initially intertwining the two backstories very effectively, then gradually solely focussing on Aliide without jarring the rhythm of the film. With such powerful themes of oppression, jealousy and redemption and aspects of WWII history that aren't well told (in the UK at least) it's a fascinating story. Also, despite Aliide doing some pretty horrific things, her actions are always clearly motivated and even if we might not make the same choices ourselves, you can always believe she would. This prevents you from completely giving up on the character, allowing for a satisfying conclusion to her story. Powerhouse performances from both female leads aid in this department too.
So overall it's an excellent film and it's a shame it didn't get shortlisted in this year's Oscars as it was Finland's official entry for Best Foreign Language Film. I had some issues with its overly grim atmosphere and felt it didn't quite hit me at the emotional level it maybe could have, but other than that gut feeling it's a near faultless production with fine direction, brave performances and sumptuous visuals to make it one of the strongest new releases I've seen so far this year.
The Purge is out now on DVD in the UK, released by Metrodome. The picture quality is fantastic for a DVD, with bold colours and clear definition. You get a choice of 5.1 or 2.0 audio tracks too. There are no special features though, not even so much as a trailer.