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The Purge Film Review
A New America
Crime and poverty is at an all time low. America is rising and the economy is booming. Everything is great in the country. All of this happiness is thanks to one thing: The Annual Purge. For one night a year, all crime is legal including murder.
This is the backdrop for The Purge, a latest entry in the home invasion horror sub-genre. This film is more of a study on society than it is a traditional horror film. The vast majority of horror films always seem to have some sort of social or political commentary, however, the best are the ones that don't bash you over the head with the message. The Purge does it's best to slap you in the face with it.
The New Founding Fathers Approve
The film opens in the year 2022 where we meet James Sandin, a wealthy business man who has struck it rich with the sales of home security systems. With all crime legal for one night, it's obvious that security would be the business to be involved in. James lives in the big house on the hill in a rich neighborhood with his wife, Mary, over-zealous daughter, Zoey, and oddly Purge fascinated son, Charlie. James and Mary don't believe they need to participate in the Annual Purge and plan to have just another quiet night behind their steel protectors.
Plans unravel rather quickly when a Bloody Stranger appears outside the Sandin house. Charlie, feeling protective, decides to open the house and let the man inside. Little does James know, Zoey's older boyfriend has also snuck into the house before lockdown. Tensions rise quickly when James and Mary discover the stranger. James arms himself and May with high-powered handguns and go after the man. But, it's not just as simple as finding him. A group of people soon arrive outside the Sandin house asking for the stranger. They announce he is the target of their Purge for the evening and have until their equipment arrives to hand him over.
James wants to cooperate, but cannot find the stranger. Quickly, opinions from all four family members start colliding. Charlie does not want to kill someone and begs his parents to protect him. Mary can't deal with tying him to a chair and handing him over. Zoey is slowly losing her grip on the evening and James just wants to protect his family. The showdown between James and the stranger can be intense given the situation. Much of the movie is in the dark with little lights and creates a jumpy atmosphere. The issue is the movie plays to so many classic horror cliches that you can see all of the jump-scares coming.
The group eventually gets inside the house and wages war against the Sandin's. What follows is a wild thrill ride of gun fights and machete swings. Just when you think the final twist has come, the movie throws not one, but two more twists your way. The film refuses to end at one point, but the biggest surprise twist is one that is obvious to just about anyway that has been paying attention. The disappointing ending only caps off what is an overall predictable and lackluster film.
Stars Provide Punch
Ethan Hawke stars as James and is more than capable of carrying any film. Hawke is a great actor with the background in horror/thriller to know what works. He was exceptional in Sinister and delivered a great turn in Daybreakers. His performance as the leader of the Sandin family is spot on for what any father would feel when his family is attacked.
Lena Headey takes on the role of Mary. The Game of Thrones, star does something a bit more real. However, it doesn't seem like she gets anything meaty until the third act of the film. For much of the early stages, she is just sort of there in the background. She does give a really good performance when needed, but she feel underutilized.
Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane play Charlie and Zoey respectively. Both do suitable jobs if they were trying to be unlikable. Neither one really stands out as a character you want to see survive the night. Part of you may actually be cheering to see Charlie get killed. Perhaps that is more to do with how the character is written, but the performance did him no favors.
The movie does succeed at delivery a frightful atmosphere. The dark hallways and flashlight usage allow you to get sucked in to the house. The issue is that it's too frequently used as set up for scares that we've experienced too many times. It would have been nice for the filmmakers to deliver something more original or at least freshen up old tricks. Sometimes you can throw a fresh coat of paint on something and it be passable. That doesn't ring true for The Purge.
Director James DeMonaco has mostly been a writer in his career and his style seems to lend itself to these gritty survival films.This movie did have the feel of a previous DeMonaco script, Assault on Precinct 13. Not to say the films don't each stand on their own merit, but they both feel a little too similar at times.
If this movie feels like you've seen it before, it's because you have. Home invasion films seem to be catching on currently, and this one does not forward the genre. With other options more available on DVD/Blu-Ray and better looking choices coming soon, You're Next; it's hard to really say The Purge is worth seeking out.
Thank You for Participating
The Purge was fun for what it was. It's not a movie I think anyone will rush to see more than once. It is full of scares you can see coming, but carried but good performances. The movie needed a bit more edge to really strike out and stand side by side with the other giants of the sub-genre. The Purge may have given groups the best new group Halloween costume though. If I saw a group of people dancing along dressed in these outfits, I'd run the other way too. The creepy masks add to the uneasy feeling that The Purge strives for. It's simply a shame that the rest of the movie didn't live up to hype and potential the idea had.