A wealthy 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 legal.A wealthy 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 legal.A wealthy 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 legal.A wealthy 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 legal.A wealthy 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 legal.
The Purge is the latest credit from Jason Blum, the man who brought us "Paranormal Activity" and last years "Sinister", both of which are highly entertaining and genuinely scary films. Therefore "The Purge" should be good. Unfortunately shooting a high concept sci-fi thriller on a shoe string budget and spending 90% of your budget on Ethan Hawke's hair ruins what could potentially have been one of the most interesting speculative horror films of the year.
With such a great, albeit it inconceivable and questionable premisis, you'd have thought that director James DeMonaco (probably best known for his writing credits on the awful Assault on Precinct 13 remake) had a little gem on his hands. The setup is fundamentally disturbing and chilling- a world where crime is legal for one night of the year would make for a highly interesting and entertaining narrative if done properly. But the problem with The Purge is it tries too hard to please and is no where near as effective or smart as it likes to think. Add to that a so-so home invasion plot thrown into the mix, which completely sidelines the awesome setup and you have a recipe for disappointment.
The film opens up nicely with an eerie title sequence which showcases how "the purge" plays out on the streets. From here though we are shoehorned into the claustrophobic life of James Sardin (Ethan Hawke) and his rich elitist family. Sandin designs and flogs "purge proof" home security systems to the neighbors and for this reason lives in an impressive lavish home himself. After a cliché ridden dinner party scene complete with flying insults about overage boyfriends, Sandin, his trophy wife Mary (Lena Heady) and their two rebellious teenagers Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder) prepare to settle down for the night, in order the wait out the annual "purge" which is about to commence. As Charlie questions the moral practice of such a disturbing concept (killing the needy to cleanse the streets) a stranger (Edwin Hodge) who is being pursued by a gang of masked vigilantes screams for help. Charlie, being the only compassionate character in the whole film decides to disarm the security system, allowing the bloodied stranger to take refuge in the family home. Meanwhile Zoey's creepy boyfriend sneaks into the house to pursue a conflict with her father. It's not long before the murderous mob, wearing masquerade-style garments traces the stranger to the family household. The charming but sinister leader of the mob (Rhys Wakefield) issues a chilling ultimatum to the family- hand over the stranger or they will break into the house and murder everyone inside.
From here follows a battle of morals, numerous chase sequences in darkened hallways and more jump scares than you can poke a stick at as cliché ridden plot points play out like a rusty video cassette. The final act consists of an action ridden shoot-em-up, and despite a few neat twists rattles along like an old ghost train, complete with fake manufactured scares. The whole idea of the "purge" is lost in the muddled home invasion plot and the numerous plot holes are so large that they could swallow up the house where this dull thriller is set. The cast do a reasonable job, but the script never allows for them to be more than two dimensional clichéd cutouts (the loyal husband, the "perfect" housewife, the rebellious kids etc) there's even a token black guy and a pantomime villain. Wakefield steals the show as the main antagonist (a performance reminiscent of Heath Ledgers smirking Joker) but it still doesn't distract from the fact that the concept is smothered by typical horror conventions. The ending is pretty shocking and unexpected (I wasn't expecting such a main character to be dispatched in such a cruel fashion) but the last 10 minutes cannot make up for the previous 75 which are mediocre to say the least.
Therefore The Purge is nothing more than a disappointing stretched out Twilight Zone, and even then it would be within the weaker of those episodes. Had the concept been properly explored (showing us the carnage in the streets, tieing up loose ends about the premisis etc) then The Purge may have been a highly entertaining and specualative thriller. As it stands, it is nothing more than your average teen slasher. Best avoided.
- May 27, 2013