Jul 1, 2016

Alternative to What: "The Bling Ring" (2013)

Scene from The Bling Ring
Welcome to Alternative to What: a weekly column that tries to find a great alternative to driving to the multiplexes. Based on releases of that week, the selections will either be thematically related or feature recurring cast and crew. The goal is to help you better understand the diversity of cinema and hopefully find you some favorites while saving a few bucks. At worse, this column will save you money. Expect each installment to come out on Fridays, unless specified. 

The Bling Ring (2013)
- Alternative To -
The Purge: Election Year (2016)

There is something impressive when a film becomes shorthand for something bigger than itself. In the case of The Purge, it's essentially a mass killing spree. Over the past few years, it's also turned into one of the most unassuming successful horror franchises following The Conjuring. The idea is simple: crime is legal for 12 hours once a year. It plays into a fantasy that most people want to kill people they hate. However, there's so much more that the films have been intending to explore, but often get sidetracked by the murdering. That is the fact that crimes include stealing money and altering your social status. There's things that would make The Purge a far better movie if it was about more than murder. Of course, that movie already existed, both in reality and in fiction.
Director Sofia Coppola adapted the real life story of The Bling Ring in 2013 and gave the film a haunting cautionary tale of teenage vapidness. Lead by Emma Watson in her best role to date, the cast follows a group of fame-hungry teens who start with petty theft before robbing celebrities like Paris Hilton where they live. For a story that is told by a director often accused of being too self-reflexive, the humor is dry and the connotations are disturbing. There's no sense of guilt from the parties at play, and the idea of using this notoriety to become celebrities is itself a fascinating commentary on the modern culture that would prefer internet fame to working hard for credibility.
It does help that there's an underlying sense of bad parenting and lack of restrictions. The drive to break in and experience the life of luxury is often tempting and played for laughs. It's a dizzying series of images, and one that updates the heist film format to a low key drama where almost nothing matters except fame. Their existence is even perpetuated from a mother figure who makes collage boards of celebrities that they worship. It eventually leads to the trial, of which is covered by the media with such a frenzy that it almost fuels their narcissism. The self-importance is laid on, even if it's misguided and unformed. 
It's a film that feels of the moment, though likely will be ignored due to the repulsive nature of stupid rich kids. From their accents to their fascination with mundane ideas, it's all a horror story unto itself, and one that seems cautionary in the years that followed. With the rise of internet celebrities and the sense that YouTube can be monetized, it's become more of a rampant problem and the stretch to achieve fame has reached the end of its elasticity. What do these teenagers have to live for if they don't get the tools that they need now? The film may seem aimless, but it captures the essence of contemporary culture in a nutshell. It is aimless, and to live the life that way is a bigger tragedy, especially when reality strikes.
How does it relate to The Purge? It does in the sense that it shows another unpleasant side to anarchy and desperation. It shows how society longs for something that only provides temporary satisfaction. Is The Bling Ring a horror film? Not in the traditional sense, though it's not hard to imagine these characters robbing as their own guilt-free version of a purge. The only difference is that this film has no victims, plenty of cultural depth, and has something to say. The Purge: Election Year may be billed as pseudo-political, but is it really? That's up to you to decide.

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