Starts out as something that could fire up a great conversation piece, but it eventually blots itself in mindless tropes and clichés. The Purge offers a futuristic scenario of America 2022 where crime is at an all-time low, unemployment is at 1% and the country has rebounded from financial debt. Wow, sounds like utopian progress. But to achieve this, the “New Founding Fathers” government has sanctioned one night a year as “Purge Night” where citizens are given license to kill, rape, and maim anyone with class 4 weapons or lower. This effectively eliminates social undesirables and stabilizes the economy. And implied, people act nicer to each other the other 364 days of the year as to not get on anybody’s bad list. For 45 minutes, it’s a frightening and interesting movie. But it restricts to genre conformity of the home invasion thriller. All social and political ideas get tossed out the window once it gets to its violent business.
The movie opens with a prologue (what I reverberated to you), some security camera tapings of what looks like real-life violence masquerading as “Purge” events, and mock newscasts. Writer-director James DeMonaco made a good decision to make his protagonist (Ethan Hawke as James Sandin) a home security expert, living high off the sales of wealthy peoples’ fears in the affluent Chatsworth, CA hills. Before commencement, wife Mary (Lena Headey) turns down their neighbors offer to watch the televised Purge event which they regale like as if it were a Super Bowl party. The two Sandin children are lovestruck teen girl Zoey and a pacifist younger teen boy Charlie (Adelaide Kane and Max Burkholder). Then there is Henry (Tony Oller), the disapproved boyfriend, who makes the mistake to think he is entitled to Mr. Sandin’s belongings.
When a terrified black man (Edwin Hodge) hollers through the streets pleading for sanctuary, the gates are lifted against Dad’s permission. Angry teens, led by one sadistic leader (see pic Rhys Wakefield, another Australian actor with undeniable acting chops) demands the homeless man be delivered to them on their house lawn for execution. It would be easy to comply, but by cutting out the lights of the house, it makes it harder for Dad to track down the hiding black man. That’s the kind of diplomacy these “Purgehunters” haven’t learned.
Unable to comply to the Purgehunters unreasonable demands in time, the Sandins pledge a stand to protect their home and shoot down any invaders. But if they’re going to fight, I kept wondering, why not fire rounds at them from their rich home’s veranda? Shoot at the main rabble-rouser from atop? Hawke and Headey aren’t your average pansies, but they sure don’t counter-attack with any strategy.
Sometime during this commotion, everyone stops talking like human beings. That’s not because of the psychological warfare, no it’s because the script stops letting its characters say what real people would say in this situation. Like, instead of hiding room to room, why doesn’t the black man kneel down, put his hands up, and ask something of mercy to the Sandins to prove his intelligence and worth to live?
“The Purge” is a well-made, superlatively photographed home invasion thriller. But is that really good enough? I had the feeling that DeMonaco (the writer of “The Negotiator,” “Assault at Precinct 13”) had brainier, expansive ideas on this premise but that the executive moneymen demanded low-brow commercialism, as well as limited production locations to ensure an easy profit. Hey guys like DeMonaco, too, need a paycheck so how can I blame him for caving in? It’s possible that if it does well enough at the box office, a new-spin sequel could be better than the first.
85 Minutes. Rated R.
HORROR / BLOODLUST / WEEKEND VIEWING DEBAUCHERY
Film Cousins: “Fear” (1996); “Panic Room” (2002); “The Strangers” (2008); “Straw Dogs” (2011).