The Purge (2013)
(15) Running time: 85 minutes
Director: James DeMonaco
Writer: James DeMonaco
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Rhys Wakefield, Edwin Hodge
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish
I remember reading the plot synopsis for The Purge when it was first revealed last year, and I remember being very excited at how this idea could be utilized. My mind was racing with awesome concepts and dark and delicious set ups that could have made for a very interesting horror thriller. Under the influence of the king of low budget horror producer Jason Blum (Sinister, Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Dark Skies, The Lords of Salem), writer and director James DeMonaco came up with an unsettling concept: what if one night of the year, for twelve hours, crime was made legal and all emergency responses were cancelled. If you so wished, you could go round your neighbour’s house and bash his head in with a rock, murder his wife and steal all their money. You could do anything you wanted in those twelve hours, the twelve hours known as The Purge, and no one would get into any trouble with the law.
According to The Purge, nine years from now these twelve hours of barbaric freedom have saved America. There is barely any crime (people vent their built up anger on Purge night), homelessness and unemployment is at almost zero percent (they have all been killed by the wealthy) and America is somehow a safe place to live. The Purge works, and those who support it buy blue flowers and parade them in front of their houses to say: yes, I love the fact we can literally get away with murder for one night a year. The problem is, this is so unbelievable and stupid that it is hard to take seriously. Had this film been set even further into the future, and showed the perfect rich living in peace, and the poor living underground ready to rise up (sounds familiar though, right?) then this film just might have side-swiped the fact that this notion is ludicrous. Instead, we are meant to believe that this new ‘law’ actually works without problems, and that people, especially the rich, are actually encouraged to take part. I struggled, really struggled to accept this daft concept, but had the film actually been any good, I may have had the tolerance for it.
Sadly the whole idea to this film is confined to one street, and one house in particular, the house of the Sandins. James (Hawke) is the Father who sells security systems so that those not willing to take part, can feel safe. His neighbours have all used his company, yet feel he is rubbing it in their face when he buys an extension on his house. Mary (Headey) is the strong wife who every year has a niggling itch to take part in The Purge, but wouldn’t dare as her husband is totally against it (for now). Charlie (Burkoholder) is the son who has created a puppet on wheels that is by far the creepiest thing in the film, and leads to some of the films more effective ‘found footage’ shots. Then there is daughter Zoey (Kane) who is seeing an older lad that her Father does not approve of. This leads to a bizarre, and totally ridiculous turn of events that is a real head scratcher for all the wrong reasons. However, it will wash right over you because the director spends so much time filming Zoey’s thighs while in her school girl outfit, you will probably be feeling too uncomfortable to care what events come next.
Our family settle down for Purge night, have dinner, Mary changes her clothes an incredible three times and even does a work out after a number of glasses of wine, they have a strained discussion at dinner, Charlie worryingly uses his puppet on wheels to film his mother bending over, Zoey sulks and James works through his sales. A forced set up is not even close to explaining how shallow, boring and unnecessary this family is. Hawke is capable of so much more, yet here he feels empty, looks bored and comes across as if he couldn’t care less. Headey is painfully wasted, and the kids just irritate. Naturally, on Purge night, their tolerance levels are tested as Charlie has a sudden sense of morals and saves a homeless victim by letting him into the house. He is being hunted by some stuck up rich kids intent on causing havoc and killing ‘targets’ for fun. Wearing supposedly scary masks and dancing like something out of The Wicker Man, they do not scare at all, and simply fuel the viewers anger at how dumb The Purge actually is. Granted Rhys Wakefield delivers possibly the best performance of the film as the leader of the gang, but far too many ‘Joker’ mannerisms come from his character, and again he feels forced and empty. You never really get into the back stories of anyone here, and it makes connecting with the characters near impossible, which in turn makes the events that follow pretty damn pointless.
The entire film feels as if it was put together as quickly as possible to make some quick cash, either off the fact Blum was producing, or that Hawke was starring in another horror after Sinisters success. Hell, the film even takes place at night to help some of the more creepy moments. There is no reason for it being shot at night, and the opening sequence shows ‘Purge-cams’ depicting acts of violence during the day, so the night time setting feels like yet another lazy way of building suspense. Granted it really helps, but like most things in this film, it is never explained. There is no explanation into why the Purge was brought in, other than crime and unemployment was at an all time high, there is no explanation into why its only twelve hours, no reason why emergency services are suspended. There are rules detailing that no weapons classed four and above can be used, but excuse my ignorance, but I have no idea what that means. Oh, and Government officials ranked ten and above are immune, and again I have no idea what that means.
The film is rushed, not really thought out and painfully flawed. There was a real chance for the film to become a real cult classic, a film about anarchy and society made perfect but with a dangerous underbelly just waiting to get out. More still, it could have served as a pretty cool idea for a found footage shocker, or even a film simply following a group of sick people enjoying their night of freedom. Instead we get a bog standard home-invasion thriller that is highly forgettable, and rarely raises an eyebrow. Yes, the violence does become pretty nasty, but sadly it cannot save this borefest. At less than ninety minutes, I found myself getting impatient and needed something to happen to keep my interest. On the other hand, this film could have easily be stretched to a much longer running time, and expanded to cover way more ground than just one God damned house. The final scenes really grinded my gears, and when the stupid morale’s take over, I found myself spitting poison at how unbearably dumb this whole thing was. Not a pleasant experience, and a complete waste of what could, and should, have been a very interesting film.