I watched a lame, by-the-numbers DVD movie the other night, and something unexpected happened: I observed and catalogued a brilliant new cinematic phenomenon. Basically, the movie, The Purge (starring Ethan Hawke), was so outrageously predictable, Iit crossed over into the unpredictable. Let me explain.
This movie was poorly written and directed. There’s no getting around that. You lose confidence in the filmmakers very early on, and after that you’re just watching because it’s fun to yell at the screen.
Not that it matters much to this article, but the overall concept of The Purge was kinda fun (for a horror/thriller): in a mildly distopian future, American citizens are given one day out of the year to just go buck wild and murder and burn and destroy and whatever. The point being, this one-day cleansing of deep dark animal urges sort of cleans the slate, and for the rest of the year everybody’s happen and non-murdery. Lowest crime rates ever!
I can buy into that creepy, evil-government concept. Very Twilight Zone or Outer Limits. In fact, I’d be surprised if this idea hadn’t been pulled from some long lost episode of one of those very shows.
The Purge, of course, has no idea how to properly exploit its own interesting premise, and instead craps the bed with forced scene after forced scene. The movie takes place entirely in one high class house—which I’m totally fine with. There’s a cool movie to be made with that approach.
But I sort of wanted this movie to be Straw Dogs on Meth. What we get, quality-wise, is basically Sharknado without the Sharks or the Ado.
I’ll forgo the scathing point-by-point movie review. I’ll just say that this is the kind of movie where the guy you thought was going to be the bad guy turns out to be the bad guy. The person you thought would show up at the last second to save the day, shows up at the last second to save the day. All twists and turns happen with exactly zero finesse, zero subtlety. As if the filmmakers, themselves, weren’t sure if the events were supposed to be surprising or not.
Anyway, on to the newly discovered cinematic phenomenon. I call it “Unpredictably Predictable.” As I said earlier, every plot point, every twist, every reveal in The Purge was telegraphed as if by Bat Signal. Things happen in the first five minutes that totally suggest a later plot twist, and [drum-roll] that very thing eventually happens, right on cue.
But here’s the thing: some of these events are so outrageously telegraphed, so freaking obvious, that you actually start to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt. You say, “This movie sucks, yeah, but there’s no way they’re gonna go there. It’s totally a red herring or something.”
But then, of course, the movie does go there, and as a result you’re actually somewhat surprised. You couldn’t have predicted how predictable this movie was going to be!
And then, after that particular plot twist had come to pass, you’re relatively sure that the next telegraphed plot point won’t actually come to pass. Surely that one was a red herring or a fluke or something. Surely the filmmakers aren’t going to do the obvious twice in a row! That would just be too outrageous…
And then, of course they do! And once again, you’re surprised at how epically unsurprising this movie has turned out to be. And the process of course keeps repeating itself. Surely the filmmakers aren’t going to pull an obvious plot twist three times in a row. That would be epic! That would be record-setting! It just won’t happen! Even when factoring in the precedent they’ve set thus far, you refuse to believe another telegraphed plot twist is going to happen!
And guess what? It totally freaking does!
“Unpredictably Predictable” movies aren’t limited to surprising you with telegraphed plot twists either. These movies are usually so bad, so awkwardly slapped together, that you are absolutely side-swiped with shocking illogic pertaining to simple events and character reveals and reactions. “Wait what?” you’ll say aloud. “I thought he’d be sad that his daughter just died, but now he’s calmly talking about his recent promotion at work.” No matter how well-versed a cinephile you think you are, there’s just no way you could predict character behavior like that!
You can predict that a movie is going to suck, but sometimes the suckage is so unrelenting that the movie crosses the threshold and falls into the unpredictable. Crosses into a chaotic domain where you can no longer accurately predict what the filmmakers are going to do because your thoughts are too deeply rooted in logic and order in the first place.
What happens next is anyone’s guess!
Readers, have you ever seen any Unpredictably Predictable films? Which ones?