Holy prompt review, Batman!
The Purge (2013)
I’m a sucker for simple high-concept films. Stuff like In Time (time is literally money) and Limitless (there’s a pill that can make you super smart) are like freakin’ catnip to me. So when I heard about The Purge, I was intrigued, despite knowing it’d probably be disappointing and not fulfill the promise of its batshit concept.
“I couldn’t find any quotes for The Purge.”
America, 2022. Unemployment is down to 1%, the economy is booming and crime is practically non-existent. This is attributed to The Purge, an annual event brought in by America’s new founding fathers. Basically, once a year for 12 hours, all crime (including murder) is legal and all emergency services are suspended. The idea behind this being that human beings are naturally violent, hate-filled creatures who need to vent out their frustrations to coexist peacefully the rest of the time. We follow minted home security salesman James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) as he and his family, headed by wife Mary (Lena Headey) secure their house and prepare for the night ahead. However, whilst in lockdown mode, son Charlie (Max Burkholder) takes pity on a bloodied and distressed stranger (Edwin Hodge) outside and lets him into their fortress. Before the Sandins know it, they’re being threatened by a masked gang of murderous posh kids and given the ultimatum to either bring out the stranger, or have them break in and slaughter all in the house.
I really like the premise and have done since I caught a short TV ad for it a while back. For 12 hours all crime is legal? Fuck, the fun you can have with that. Yes, you can blow holes in the concept with your big ol’ cynicism and reality cannons, but I don’t trust people who can’t suspend disbelief. See- this sort of situation would justify having a veritable arsenal in your home. This must be what devout, “cold dead hands” NRA members see in their mind’s eye when they reach orgasm. Important point- this is not the horror it’s being billed as. I know the poster has a creepy mask fella on it and proudly boasts it’s from the producers of Sinister and Paranormal Activity, but that means practically nothing. It’s more of a thriller with jump scares. Really underwhelming jump scares. The cast are all bland as fuck, except maybe the “polite leader” of the mask group (Rhys Wakefield) who is so gleeful in being a bastard it’s impossible not to warm to him. I was disappointed to see Queen Mean Lena Headey fade into the background for most of the runtime. She gets some moments later on, but by that point you’re well past giving a shit about anyone.
The film starts off really well. We have an opening CCTV montage of various violent Purge acts happening around the States, set to Debussy’s “Clair de lune” (although, pleb that I am, I first recognised it as the Peggle Nights music). Coupled with the Stepford feel to the sunny surburban life the Sandins have, it does a great job of building a sense of creeping dread. It reminded me of the start of The Hunger Games, possibility because of the similar idea of government-sanctioned violence and murder. There’s a great little bit where the daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane, kept in a kinky Catholic schoolgirl outfit because of reasons) and her dungus boyfriend (Tony Oller) look out the window pre-lockdown and see a neighbour nonchalantly sharpening a massive machete in preparation for the night’s festivities. The news reports analysing the Purge phenomenon are pretty well used too. There’s a none-too-subtle political undercurrent about how The Purge may just have been a way to get rid of the poor and as a result, caused the economy to not only recover, but come on leaps and bounds. These are all interesting, compelling ideas. It’s just a damn shame the film then goes about dismantling any intrigue and tension from there.
The first problem is that the characters don’t speak like human beings. It’s like writer/director DeMonaco has heard several humans interacting in his time and just gave it his best shot when it came to scripting. A lot of the dialogue is used to signpost shit later on. There’s one bit where weird kid Charlie has a remote control car/camera thing (made to look like a half burnt baby doll/tank hybrid for some arbitrary reason) and he explains to his mother all the modifications he’s made, including night vision, making it practically silent and the ability to play music. Gee- do you think those attributes will perhaps come in handy later? When shit hits the fan, the Sandins’ dialogue gets disappointingly nail-on-the-head which betrays the potentially interesting social commentary.
There are plenty of things that don’t make sense, but most didn’t bother me. The one (mildly spoiler-ish) thing that stuck in my craw was early on where the family talk about James banning his daughter from seeing her boyfriend Henry because he’s too old for her. This is also signposted to buggery. He sneaks back into the house just before lockdown and tells Zoey he wants to talk to her dad and hash out their problems. The siren sounds, the steel shutters decend and he grabs his gun and takes a potshot at Sandin Snr. I mean, what the fuck? I know murder is legal, but didn’t it occur to Henry that perhaps ending his GF’s dad’s life, no matter how above board would make her not want to see him again? Was he lying about loving her? Just what would he have to gain from murdering Sandin? I didn’t understand and the loopy logic kept niggling at the back of my brain throughout the rest of the film.
Things then take a turn for the action-y as the film devolves into a home invasion film with jump scares. As I said, these scares are also serious weak sauce. I got the feeling the film was running out of ideas as several supposedly tense altercations are solved by someone off-screen shooting the attackers. Fucking yawn. Also, CGI blood. A cardinal sin. This goes on for a bit before winding down to an anti-climactic finish. I barely heard the last few lines over my sighs of disappointment.
“Still, most of the dialogue’s akin to a Brillo pad enema, so small mercies, I guess.”
I really wanted to like The Purge, but it felt like nearly every aspect of it was actively working against that goal. This’d be one of the very few properties that I’d like to see get a sequel. Just get a better writer and you could have something really compelling. It’s not terrible, but not good either.