The Purge Directed by: James DeMonaco Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Rhys Wakefield Running Time: 1 hr 25 mins Rating: R Release Date: June 7, 2013
PLOT: A security system salesman in 2022 America (Hawke) must protect his family when a group of people come knocking on his door during a government-sanctioned 12-hour killing spree.
WHO'S IT FOR? If you come to The Purge thinking you'd consider pocketing a bag of chips from CVS during the movie's title event, don't bother. However, as much as it irks me to say this, if the idea of violence during a purge sounds like correct catharsis, this movie is for you.
EXPECTATIONS: Only having heard the concept, I was definitely intrigued. What could be made of this simple pitch with endless possibilities?
Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey as James and Mary Sandin: Hawke and Headey are relatively exciting in this movie as two parents who get into defensive mode when their fancy schmancy security program backfires. While Hawke becomes a gun-totin' average man action figure towards the end of the movie, Headey is a bit stronger in showing the moral horror that a person must sacrifice themselves to when the safety of family is in question. Score: 5
Rhys Wakefield as Polite Stranger: The Purge takes a turn for the hammy with this villain who progressively overacts his way through the story's unfortunate direction. At first his Jon Allen-like grin and Michael Pitt-like kindness seems refreshing, but such tools are the only manners of horror he has. Wakefield leads the charge on this movie losing its tension, and becoming goofy. Score: 4
TALKING: Despite such an interesting concept (one of the best that I've seen from horror in years), any sort of debate this movie may want to have is purposely withheld. Characters speak briefly about the event, but they let their actions later do more of the discussion than words. Of course this is fine, but what's missing is the film trying to convince us that all human beings are inherently violent. Instead, there's one talking head (a scientist from Johns Hopkins) who lays out the information, and that's that. Humans are violent, that is all. For the high expectations this film raises for itself, that is not enough. Score: 5
SIGHTS: By using limited POV shots and lack of lighting, the tricks are in place to create palpable tension during the movie's earlier scenes. The film's centerpiece of violence, considering how it is shown in the film, is only chilling when it is captured in security footage in the opening credits. The Purge becomes pure action in the third act, including moments in which characters hesitate to pull the trigger, and are met with a supposedly surprising counterattack. Score: 6
SOUNDS: In creating a progressively typical horror experience, The Purge doesn't hesitate to build up some of its scares, phony and real, with obvious volume swells. As expected, such moments are met with a bang, some of which push the experience of The Purge too easily into generic thrill territory. Score: 5
BEST SCENE: The Purge begins on a creepy first foot during its credit sequence, showing various title event activity to the tune of Debussy's "Claire de Lune."
ENDING: Room for a sequel is left open with a conclusion that also features the line, "We're going to play the rest of this night out in motherf**king peace."
QUESTIONS: Which came first for this screenplay? The good ideas, or the bad ones?
REWATCHABILITY: The Purge might be worth a look a second time farther down the road (like Insidious), but I would certainly prefer to re-watch this one alone.
Just as The Internship promotes applying to Google, so does The Purge endorse packing up my Macbook and fleeing to Canada ASAP, in its presentation of an awful, awful, awful nightmare set less than ten years in the future. As the film kicks off, with Hawke's neighbors all advising each to "have a safe night," The Purge successfully lingers on its audience as a bizarre event that allots for compelling questions about the inherent nature of morality as opposed to that of violence. Characters are set up to constantly deal with the question of what is right given the circumstances, and what is irrational. Kids might be used as the naive force that triggers the movie's events, but such is even forgivable for the challenging situations that ensue. This part is good.
Here is where it gets bad. It's right about when the grinning main conflict comes knocking on the door that the horror of the movie gets progressively hammy, slowly canceling the nagging moral questions from earlier. Simultaneously, this stops any glimmers of hope that this movie would be a parody against a nightmarish God-driven gun country that has decided that violence is the only solution to an epidemic that has also become a grotesque moment of classicism. Yup, this annual moral apocalypse becomes super Straw Dogs, for someone who doesn't get that movie, or only saw the final act (either the original or the remake). A story that instead needs the direct uncomfortableness of Michael Haneke's brilliant Funny Games (either the original or the remake), Purge becomes a safe moment that plays into the perversions of its audience, hinting that 2022 isn't that far off if my screening audience was fully conscious as they applauded violence that had originally wanted to terrify, but now strove to gratify. The cynicism that this movie has about a progressively diminishing society becomes a dull blade, tooling its characters into being evil for the primary sake of hammy home invasion thriller "SHOOT HIM!" sequences.
If director DeMonaco had intended The Purge to be an audience recruitment for his disturbing proposition, then he has succeeded; it is not only his movie's prediction of the future that compels me to seek sanctuary with Dudley-Do-Right, but the audience reactions that the film achieved as well.
By concept alone, The Purge is original, exciting, and most of all, disturbing. But it has such an ugly execution; there are other ways in which the same concept could be used for a more clever, and more levelheaded screenplay. Perhaps such ideas will show up in the sequels that potentially await. This first film however, doesn't show hope that these purge events will create a conversation with its audience of wannabe purgers, but instead cheaply allot catharsis to these mentalities that will inch such a concept closer and closer to a national holiday.
But not my national holiday!
O Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love in all thy sons command. With glowing hearts we see thee rise, the True North strong and free! From far and wide, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. God keep our land glorious and free! O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10