THE PURGE Review

When Ethan Hawke showed up in last years legitimately scary Sinister I was happy to see the actor branch out slightly and give the genre picture a go. I was also glad he paired with the director of one of my other favorite scary movies of the last ten years, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Upon seeing the first trailers and promotional materials for The Purge though I thought he might have jumped in head first too quickly and began splurging on the kinds of roles in the kinds of movies that might eventually end up in the five dollar bin. While this second trip into scary movie-land is not as intriguing or mysterious as the aforementioned Sinister it has an interesting enough premise to draw people towards it (and the creepy, over exaggerated face masks are always a plus in home invasion thrillers). Director James DeMonaco, who has only directed one previous feature before this, has also composed a script that contains a fair amount of potential in the points it is trying to make and the message it is trying to get across, but unfortunately we never really see any of the gritty realities of this new found way of life. No, instead of diving into that real potential the film could have brought to the experience it instead quickly dissolves into that standard home invasion film where we see every plot twist coming and every supposed scare is as obvious as how this whole thing is going to end up. There were times the movie almost had me fooled, had me thinking it was going to go a different way, but heaven forbid it do such a thing as to dare to make the audience unhappy. This timid nature ultimately results in the most typical conclusion led up to by the least surprising and least effective set of circumstances. Worse than all of this is the fact there are no likable characters here. We don't like our supposed protagonists from the beginning because they've succumbed to this annual event that makes little sense and we don't like their kids or their new enemies because they all make dumb decisions. In the end, there is only one word that comes to mind when I reflect on what this turned out to be: pointless.  

Mary (Lena Headey) and James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) band together when outsiders attack their home. 
DeMonaco is primarily known as a writer having penned the screenplays for such 90's flicks as Jack (yes, the one with Robin Williams that I loved though my childhood memory may be serving me wrong) as well as The Negotiator (Kevin Spacey and Sam Jackson in a movie I've never seen, but have walked past countless times in Wal-Mart and has that unmistakable cover art). Though these aren't the greatest of credentials I was rather optimistic about the possibilities the story held as it was at least evident the guy was a seasoned writer and if there was going to be any weaknesses it would more than likely fall with the direction of the film than a fault of the scripts which can be much easier to forgive. While the film breezes by at a mere hour and twenty-five minutes this also doesn't leave much in the way development. There is minimal background information, which I'll admit was pleasantly surprising, and we are delivered the rules of the purge via the emergency broadcast system as the 12-hour window to commit any crime, including murder, without breaking the law commences. We are a mere nine years into the future here in March of 2022 and the United States has been taken over by the new founding fathers as the way things are run have been re-evaluated. They refer to the days before the purge and how bad it was, the crime rates, the unemployment, the degenerate society that ran free with no hope for the future. It has been since the purge began that the crime rate has dropped to almost nothing and the unemployment rate is down to 1%. Naturally, the news outlets the different members of the family listen to or walk past in preparation for the night debate the reasons for the event and how much of it has to do with money and how much of it really is for reasons of "unleashing ones beast" and purging themselves of the anger and hatred that builds up throughout the rest of the year. Oddly enough the film somehow manages to make this come off as a law that was passed and put into motion with no real uprising from concerned citizens about the repercussions such an event would cause, but even as it gets away with that hurdle it is unable to convince us such a thing would ever truly work and the story collapses on itself from there.

This film is not so much about making us believe this could actually happen as it is about demonstrating why prejudice, in any form, will never lead to a more peaceful society. It is obvious from the moment we meet the Sandin family that they are elitists in society. What is made more obvious by the fact that Hawke's character sells home security systems for a living is that the rich get richer and the poor get eliminated. It is a luxurious existence for those who can afford to protect themselves and a free for all to those who can't and have to concern themselves with the yuppies who want to purge themselves aka rid the world of those that might threaten their new precious statistics. It is also made clear though that many people participate in the purge as a way to kill people who they simply do not like or have a type of vendetta against. This creates bigger problems with the new founding fathers overall theory as they expect us think people simply put up with one another year-round and are completely fake to all around them only to extract revenge on this one night a year? The purge wouldn't so much help society as much as pushing it even more towards people wanting to kill one another more than they usually would. People would walk around on eggshells afraid of pissing anyone off so as not to attract any attention on purge night, but in doing this their anxiety, their hatred and all the things the purge intends to distill are simply multiplied and explodes on this night where it almost seems more people might be killed than whatever the murder rate is right now. Naturally, all of this is not what the filmmakers want you to concentrate on and so I tried to forgive the lack of a solid base for this premise to stand on and simply hoped that because it was still an intriguing idea that the execution might prove to be just as inviting. I've already stated my opinion on how things only devolve into standard scary movie conventions, but going one step further, the characters we experience this event through don't even feel worthy of our time or even being spared from the wrath of the purge.

Two masked youth who intend to take advantage of purge night wait outside the Sandin's home.
Hawke plays patriarch James Sandin, a very well off security salesman who lives in a rich neighborhood with his wife and two children. His wife, Mary (Lena Headey of 300 and Game of Thrones) is a stay at home wife and mother who seems to love nothing more than attending to those duties and basking in the luxury of her mansion of a house that has a new addition attributed presumably to the bonus James received when he sold every house on the block the latest upgraded system. The neighbors seem thankful for their insurance, but are clearly put-off that the Sandin's would throw it right in their faces. The couples two children, Charlie (Max Burkholder) is a bit of an oddball who secludes himself in his room and likes to play with a roving camera device that he seems to have built himself. Chalrie also has the most compassion in the film as he allows the initial point of conflict into the house, but as he's the youngest he is never asked to rectify what he's done. His older sister Zoey (Adelaide Kane) has a boyfriend determined to set things right with her father who thinks he is to old for his daughter, but other than this there is nothing more to her. As you've seen in the trailers once Charlie lets down the guard of the Sandin's security system to allow what looks to be a homeless man screaming for help into their home things begin rolling and where the film could have taken the opportunity to build a sense of mystery around the whole thing it instead goes back to a no surprises affair that sees it trying to convince the audience these people are getting what they deserve. In some ways we have no problem accepting this because the Sandin's make some pretty poor decisions and aren't generally people we can empathize with, but somehow the homeless man (Edwin Hodge) that Charlie allows in and only receives limited screen time becomes our point of entry into what the purge really is and in doing so helps us realize what a bad idea it would have been from the outset. The Purge isn't a scary movie, but more a thriller with a few suspenseful moments. It isn't necessarily a horrible film, but it is pretty bad and not nearly as impressive or thought-provoking as it likes to think it is.