Synopsis: A family is held hostage for harboring the target of a murderous syndicate during the Purge, a 12-hour period in which any and all crime is legalized.
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder, Tony Oller
Director: James DeMonaco
Running Length: 85 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: There are times when I’m in a movie theater where I start to bargain with myself before the lights go down. The internal conversation before The Purge went something like this… “C’mon Joe, it’s your day off mid-week and you don’t really have much to lose taking in a home-invasion thriller with an interesting concept. At best you’ll be surprised at the (pardon the pun) execution and at worst your eyes will get a nice workout as they roll in your head. If the movie is half-way good you’ll come out on top.” Well, The Purge is one half of a good movie, a par-baked pizza of a film that looks nice when you open it but the more you digest it the less appetizing it becomes.
Running a scant 85 minutes, The Purge has a first act that is nothing if not engaging. Opening with security footage of some very bad people doing very bad things the audience is reintroduced to the concept that most will know going in: in the very near future the US Government has sanctioned one night a year where for 12 hours any and all crime is legalized. You can murder your boss, make an unfortunate soul fodder for target practice, loot your local Best Buy, or if you choose to you can avoid it all by sitting back in your home under the protection of the latest and greatest security system…if you can afford one.
That’s what the Californian nuclear family at the center of The Purge is doing…and they know they’re secure within the walls of their manse because Dad (Ethan Hawke, Sinister) is the top-selling agent of the top-of-the-line security system on the market. He’s outfitted their entire gated community, netting quite the bucks for his efforts and early on we see that the neighbors, while thankful for the protection, don’t love the fact that Hawke and his family have benefitted from the cost of their peace of mind.
Like most families the children have a boatload of issues. Daughter (Adelaide Kane) is boy crazy and unhappy with her dad for keeping her away from her older boyfriend. Son (Max Burkholder) is at that awkward age when communication comes best through methods that he has control over. Dad and Mom (Lena Headey) do their best to keep the peace…though nothing is presented that puts any new spin on family dynamics. Casting wise, the four actors make for a believable family.
When the Purge commences the family goes about their night inside as gunfire is heard and the television shows the horrors happening outside the tightly sealed doors and windows. Then the son sees a black man yelling for help in the street and before anyone knows it, he’s opened the gates and let the bloodied man in. It isn’t long before a group of preppy hunters have tracked the man to the house and begin their own attack in their quest for blood.
What happens after that is best left for the viewer to discover but trust me when I say that it’s at this point the movie starts to go downhill in a curiously rapid fashion. Though the lead maniac (Tony Oller) possesses a chilly charisma that thinly masks some serious crazy there’s nothing distinctive about anyone else that comes knocking. Actually, the film is edited so that you never get a true idea of how many people Hawke and family are up against.
Even with its short running time, the middle of the movie has some major pacing problems as the family looks for the man who has disappeared into the house so they can give him up to machete wielding psychos at their door. That’s when you realize that the film has squandered an earlier opportunity to give the viewer an actual layout of the house so we can get our bearings. There’s a lot of discussion about a new addition to the house and its general square feet but most of the movie looks like it was filmed in one or two hallways and bedrooms.
Though director James DeMonaco’s script raises some interesting questions about violence in our society, suggesting that what the Purge was really designed to do was aid in the further separation of the haves from the have-nots, it chickens out at the end with a lackluster run-of-the-mill final act where seemingly smart people do infuriatingly stupid things. Morals only come into play when it’s convenient and a soapbox is handy to stand on. Worse, no one really seems to understand the message that DeMonaco was going for in the first place. Close but no cigar award goes to Headey who at least makes the most out of a role that doesn’t give her much to fight for.
I’m not sure that the first 45 minutes of The Purge is good enough to make you leave the theater satisfied but perhaps in the sequel (which was quickly greenlit after the low-budget but handsomely made film made back its budget in midnight screenings alone) there could be a better through-line that marries the societal questions on violence with a more thrilling output.