The Purge is such a great idea. A GREAT idea. It’s so simple, yet so ripe for development. The fact that the movie never comes close to achieving its full potential is a real shame.
In an America of the near future, one night a year is allotted as a night when anything goes. People are happier, the world is a better place, and that’s all thanks to The Purge. It does, however, highlight the divide between the haves and have nots. Ethan Hawke plays James Sandin, a husband and father who definitely has plenty. He makes a lot of money from selling the kind of security systems that other households rely on to keep them completely safe during The Purge. That might make some people jealous, but jealousy isn’t a problem as soon as The Purge begins. James keeps his family beside him, brings secure shutters down around his home and starts waiting. Twelve hours. Twelve hours in which people can do whatever they like, all emergency services are unreachable and it’s probably best to trust no one. Which is why the family are understandably alarmed when the youngest member (Max Burkholder) temporarily turns off the security system to let in a man (Edwin Hodge) seeking shelter from some people intent on murdering him. Knowing that their target is in the house, the murderous group deliver an ultimatum – release their prey or the house will be invaded and the whole family will die.
With both Hawke and Lena Headey (as his wife, Mary Sandin) in the lead roles, The Purge has another good head start on many other horrors/thrillers of recent years. I like the former and would watch the latter in an instructional video about the drying of paint. Unfortunately, any goodwill is undone by writer-director James Demonaco just when the movie should get better and better.
Because The Purge becomes really quite silly at the very point when it should become tense and entertaining. Bad decisions are made, characters are hard to sympathise with and everything just starts to deflate from about the 20-25 minute mark. Even the twists thrown into the plot are just, well, predictable and/or unenjoyable. And the heavy-handed political points being made would be less distracting if Demonaco had spent some time instead looking up the definition of the word “subtle” instead of writing something about the thin veneer of civility that even Wes Craven – no stranger to making this point in a heavy-handed way himself – might wince at.
Hawke and Headey both do well enough, Burkholder is okay and Rhys Wakefield is excellent as the charming leader of the group intent on breaking into the home and getting their target. Edwin Hodge is fine as the desperate man in a very bad situation and Arija Bareikis is excellent in a small role as a jealous neighbour. It’s poor Adelaide Kane who suffers the most, not doing well at all with her poorly written, and outright annoying, character.
There’s a great film hidden away somewhere in The Purge, one hinted at by the trailer (because that’s what trailers do) and a number of the early scenes. Heck, there’s some good stuff in the second half of the movie. It’s not a complete waste of time, and there will be some folks who find this pitched perfectly to what they want to see in terms of tension and violence. Maybe they’ll get things right in a sequel. Or, some years down the line, a remake that takes the central premise and gives it an overhaul.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: JAMES DEMONACO
STARS: ETHAN HAWKE, LENA HEADEY, MAX BURKHOLDER, ADELAIDE KANE, EDWIN HODGE, RHYS WAKEFIELD, TONY OLLER, ARIJA BAREIKIS
RUNTIME: 85 MINS APPROX