“The Purge” is a weak movie built on a truly intriguing concept. Set in the near-future in a United States that has been thrown into chaos by economic collapse and a dramatic rise in crime, order has been restored thanks to a novel and terrifying government policy.
Once a year for a period of 12 hours all crime, including murder, is legal and all emergency services are suspended. The idea is that given one night a year to “purge” all violent tendencies society will be better off, and what’s more is that it works.
All non-Purge-Night crime becomes practically non-existent and unemployment drops to one percent. In retrospect, it is probably a good thing this movie came out after Michele Bachmann announced her retirement lest it give her any ideas for her next campaign.
Writer and director James DeMonaco has concocted a world that is ripe with opportunity, but he is unwilling or unable to take his idea to the deep end of the cinematic pool and is instead content to splash around in the shallows using his premise to set up a toothless home-invasion thriller.
Ethan Hawke plays James Sandin, the patriarch of a WASP-y family who has benefited greatly from the new world order by providing advanced security systems for the wealthy to ride out The Purge in relative safety.
James’ wife, Mary (Lena Headey), and two kids, Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder), are on edge as Purge Night approaches and there is a palpable tension as the movie sets itself up.
It all unravels though when Charlie spots a homeless man (Edwin Hodge) running bleeding through their gated community begging for help. Charlie lowers the home’s defenses just long enough for the man to slip into the house just ahead of a group of masked assailants.
Their leader, a preppy rich kid oozing malevolent charm (played expertly by Rhys Wakefield) demands the Sandins send the man out or they will break in and kill everyone in the house.
The movie then totally removes itself from its premise and we spend pretty much the entire rest of the film creeping around in the dark and fighting off psychos in tight hallways.
What is so disappointing about “The Purge” is that it flirts with some really big ideas but doesn’t follow through on any of them. Floating about are questions wide (is violent crime inherent in our nature or more a product of the division of class and race?), tight (would somebody I know try to kill me if they knew they could get away with it?) and even meta (are horror and thriller movies a way of “purging” our own violent tendencies?).
I was really rooting for this movie, as a fresh idea in Hollywood is a rare creature indeed and even more so in a genre film.
You don’t ever want to say this of a bad movie, but part of me hopes that there is a sequel to “The Purge” as this world is actually worth a broader and bolder exploration.
As it stands now it is merely a movie that desperately wants to say something important and profound, but the best it can come up with is “Boo!”
“The Purge” is rated R for strong disturbing violence and some language.