Title: The Purge
Directed By: James DeMonaco
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, Arija Bareikis
The year is 2022 and the country’s crime rate is at an all time low thanks to an event known as The Purge. From 7pm on March 21st to 7am on March 22nd, all crime is legal. There’s no police, fire departments, or emergency medical services. For a 12-hour stretch you’re on your own and it’s up to you whether you want to lay low and hide or arm up and take advantage of the purpose of the event, to use it as a catharsis.
“The Purge” focuses on the Sandins. They’re your typical well-off family of four living in a beautiful home in a gated community. Assuming their new top of the line security system will keep them safe, come 7pm, they lock up and prepare for a quiet night in. However, when Charlie Sandin (Max Burkholder) opts to do the unthinkable on Purge night, have a heart, he manages to save one man, but put his entire family at risk by doing so.
There’s no denying that the core concept of “The Purge” is an ingenious idea, but it’s also an irrefutably tough sell. There’s absolutely no way the US government would ever sanction such an event, nor would the population ever want it, but it’s still sickly fun to wonder how you might fare during such an event. While that end of the scenario does make “The Purge” a mildly thrilling watch, it’s still nothing more than mindless entertainment because writer-director James DeMonaco misses the mark both on the satirical front and in terms of conveying the true horror of such an event, leaving the film in an awkward and often laughable middle ground.
The more effective portions of the film are the ones during which we get a glimpse of the wide scale response to The Purge, particularly the news coverage of the night because this is where the event is presented as more than an excuse for bloodshed. On top of the idea that this one night release entices people to keep in line for the rest of the year, there’s also talk about how it improves the economy because it essentially winds up getting rid of the weaker members of society. However, rather than explore that further, the notion is dumbed down to name-calling and exceptionally violent behavior, which is basically the case with every shred of thought the film proposes.
“The Purge” boils down to a home invasion movie. The good guys are inside, the bad guys are trying to get in and eventually, things come to blows. It’s an entirely wasted opportunity as far as the depth to The Purge, but it could have worked as a decent thriller had DeMonaco not come up short on that front as well. Rhys Wakefield may get a little carried away every now and then, but overall, he makes for an especially eerie gang leader. Those masks have a similar effect, but considering all of Wakefield’s lackeys are essentially mutes, their creep factor only lasts so long. It seems as though DeMonaco is aware when the power of the masks expire, but his backup tactic of having the group skip around, ride swings, and make out with each other is much more absurd than it is scary.
And then even when the blood does start to flow, “The Purge” is still subpar. There’s one great throwdown in the Sandin family game room, but that’s really the only concrete, inventive set piece. Otherwise, the film is just a bunch of lurking around the house, reveals of villains in the background, and stupid decisions. Not a single character in this film makes one sensible choice. Even if you let the fact that Charlie lets the man in the house slide, the kid makes about a dozen moronic mistakes after that, making you think the Sandins would have been better off just cutting their youngest out of the equation early on. But then again, James and Mary Sandin (Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey) are equally as ineffectual. You’ve got people at your door threatening to murder your entire family. Enough with the back and forth. Either give them what they want or decide to fight. And for G-d’s sake, stick together! There must be a dozen instances in this movie where a Sandin family member simply decides to up and leave the room despite the fact that they could be killed in an instant. And, even worse, whenever that happens that means we’ve got to suffer through a seemingly endless sequence of James or Mary searching the house with a flashlight.
Full disclosure, due to a last minute scheduling change, I wound up seeing “The Purge” twice and while this review should be a straight assessment of the first viewing, it’s necessary to note that I did have a different reaction each time. I walked into screening one with high hopes and walked out absolutely livid due to the fact that the whole thing felt like a wasted opportunity and a good portion of the film, namely the excess of house searching, made the whole experience incredibly boring. However, there could be something to be said for movie’s re-watchable quality because knowing what was coming the second time around helped the pacing immensely. Oddly enough, I even found myself looking forward to certain sequences. The pain of trudging through the multiple walks through the home is still there and the characters don’t get any smarter, but this time, rather than leaving totally furious, it actually seemed likely that this could be something worthy of a rainy Sunday afternoon watch.