The Purge Review
Antti Jokinen started out directing music videos for the likes of Celine Dion, Westlife and Wyclef Jean before making the transition to features with The Resident, that rather unremarkable psychological thriller with Hilary Swank. For his latest venture he’s turned to an unlikely source, namely Sofi Oksanen’s Purge. Beginning life as play in 2007, Oksanen’s third novel was met with near-universal acclaim – winning numerous literary awards and becoming the first of her works to be translated into English.
Jokinen’s adaptation, much like the novel, opens in early nineties post-communist Estonia with a battered and bruised teenage girl seeking solace at a dilapidated farmhouse. To her surprise she finds it occupied by a misanthropic old woman fearful of strangers. Initially the two clash, though it quickly becomes apparent that there are similarities between the pair despite the five-decade age gap. Purge demonstrates as much by splitting its narrative between rhyming flashbacks. One takes us back to the Soviet-occupied Estonia of the 1940s and the early life of the old woman (named Aliide), detailing the relationship she had with her sister and the brother-in-law for whom she held an affection. The other relates the recent past of the teenaged girl (named Zara) as a prostitute enslaved by a member of the Russian mafia.
Jokinen’s twin narratives – a harrowing unrequited love story with a political undercurrent and the tale of a misguided youth in the sex trade, both serving as constant reminders of the plights of vulnerable women – balance beautifully, each seeming to increase in tension and despair as they progress. Purge’s most striking feature isn’t its gender politics, but rather the explicit violence. There are scenes of gang rape, child torture and sexual degradation which only serve to underpin the sense of tragedy and, needless to say, prove harrowing to watch. Jokinen’s film is set firmly in the real world, but such sequences more readily bring to mind a horror movie.
Despite this, Purge never loses its way and much of that is down to the excellent performances. Laura Birn (as young Aliide), Liisi Tandefelt (old Aliide) and Amanda Pilke (Zara) give exhausting turns as contrasting women suffering similar injustices. This Oscar-hopeful may have fallen short of the Academy’s recognition (the film was Finland’s official entry, but it failed to make the shortlist), but that won’t dampen the spirits of his chillingly raw adaptation. A harrowing tale of love, jealousy and betrayal, Purge is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Purge will be released onto UK DVD courtesy of Metrodome Distribution on May 29th. (It has also been renamed The Purge on the packaging.) The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio (anamorphically enhanced) and looks suitably beautiful. The Finnish-language soundtrack is available in both DD5.1 and DD2.0 and similar comes across very well. Be aware, however, that the English subtitles have been hardcoded. There are no extras, although the disc does open with trailers for other Metrodome releases.