The Purge Review
Imagine if a film like "Ghostbusters" took itself seriously, or if a film like "American Psycho" didn't commit to its satirical style, and you'll quickly see how "The Purge" goes wrong.
In the future, our nation will be governed by a single-party platform known as the New Founding Fathers of America. They will initiate a new law which allows all Americans to commit any crime, including murder, for a 12-hour period one night a year. All police, fire and health agencies will close for the 12-hour period. This event will become known as The Purge. There are only a few rules pertaining to the Purge. No using weapons like nukes and no killing any high ranking government officials, otherwise all bets are off.
That's definitely a clever idea for a movie, but also one which will cause a headache if you think about it longer than 10 seconds. We learn in an opening title card that unemployment is below 1% and crime is pretty much non-existent thanks to The Purge. So drug dealers plan their entire business year around one night? And what about psychopaths in the vein of Dexter Morgan or Dr. Hannibal Lecture? Do they resist their urges to kill for 364 days at a time? The rules make the idea seem even sillier. If no police or law enforcement are working Purge Night, what is to stop someone from stealing a nuke and leveling a city?
But of course, a movie like this throws away all such logic. The movie focuses upon the Sandin family. There's James the father (Ethan Hawke), Mary the mother (Lena Headey), Zoey the daughter (Adelaide Zane), and Charlie the son (Max Burkholder). The Sandin family has become very rich selling security equipment, James uses The Purge as a selling point, which causes friction between himself and his neighbors. James is coming home on the dawn of another Purge Night, smiling that everything will be okay. That night a Bloodied Stranger (Edwin Hodge) is crying for help, and Charlie with his moral compass, decides to let him in.
Before the Sandin's know it, their house is surrounded by rich snobs led by a "Polite Stranger" (Rhys Wakefield), they demand the homeless man be put in their custody or they will break in and kill everyone. So then the film turns into a "Straw Dogs" ripoff as the family prepares to defend their home. Turns out all the hoopla surrounding the Purge was created by writer/director James DeMonaco as window dressing. It seems DeMonaco wanted "The Purge" to not come off like an ordinary home invasion thriller, but it turns out that "The Purge" is indeed just an ordinary home invasion thriller.
That to me is very disappointing. It seems to me that with this film's premise, although silly, can manufacture all sorts of crazy ideas. Turning to home invasion horror is the least common denominator for this type of idea. There are some interesting discussions about morality, but that barely lasts ten minutes. Also there is some discussion about class and political warfare. In a world gone to hell, would the 1% barricade themselves in their fortresses of solitude while the 99% thins itself out? It's a brainy idea, but it isn't explored. All James DeMonaco seems to want to do with his movie is just be ordinary. It's clear right down to the rich bad guys. They arrive at the Sandin's house weary freaky masks. But on a night where all crime is legal, why wear masks at all? You will get away with it no matter what, so why wear them? Easy. DeMonaco wanted his movie to be like all the rest!
On a horror level, "The Purge" is not good nor scary. I believe all of you will be rolling your eyes at all the decisions the characters make in this film. Plus, the ending involving the neighbors almost forced me to laugh out loud. I know lots of people who skip all horror films, simply because they don't like getting scared. I know for a fact that all those folks I know would have a pleasant sleep after watching "The Purge" and that's too bad. Two of my greatest fears are my own home being invaded, but also living in a world that has gone to hell, real post-apocalyptic type stuff always gets under my skin. I like knowing that I am protected and when I lose that feeling its deeply scary. "The Purge" could have easily tapped into those two terrors, but fails completely.
The acting is okay. I will always like Ethan Hawke and Lena Heady but the sloppy script really makes their characters one dimensional. Rhys Wakefield is never once menacing or frightening. The great monsters of cinematic horror, such as Leatherface, Linda Blair and Mike Myers seemed like real-life monsters. Even when Blair got possessed in "The Exorcist" she was scary. Even when she said such lines like "You're mother sucks cocks in hell!" She made those lines sting. Wakefield is so over-the-top, corny and cartoonish that he's just non-threatening.
This movie made bank its opening weekend, surprisingly so. And a sequel has already been planned. I hope for the second movie, the studio tries something neater and more satirical. I would love to see a movie where we see Purge Night occur in all the different cultures of our country. How poor, celebrities, criminals, cops, government officials, priests, old, young, urban, rural...how do all these stereotypes react to such a night? How do they prepare? Who do they target and why? If the sequel is just another family being stalked by masked killers...then I'm not interested. They blew this idea already, hears to hoping they don't do it a second time around.
FINAL GRADE: D-