The Purge - Review
James DeMonaco's The Purge thinks it is way smarter than it actually is. The trailer gives the impression that this is something different, a horror/thriller that is going to act as some kind of response to the world that we live in today. In actual fact, what DeMonaco has given us is a home-invasion thriller...with a slight sprinkling of science fiction.
I don't want to sound too harsh talking about The Purge, it's not all bad. Parts of it were reasonably enjoyable, and as a bog-standard thriller it's halfway decent, the problem is that the build-up seems to suggest that we're in store for something much more than what we end up getting.
It's 2022, and the United States is now run by a group known as the New Founding Fathers. For one day every year, there's a twelve hour "purge" where all crimes are legal and the emergency services are suspended. This has apparently led to record low levels of crime, and employment is also at an all time low. We're never told why exactly, and there's plenty of issues surrounding how America's new rulers stay protected during the purge, (it's explained that certain people are exempt from the twelve hour murder-spree), and despite weapons being legal during this period, apparently weaponry that exceeds "Class 4" is still prohibited, which begs the question how they police this when they've supposedly shut down the cops for half a day. So there's plot holes the size of a crater in The Purge's story, if that kind of thing puts you off a film then you'll probably dislike the movie much more than I did.
Still, it handles other elements pretty well. Ethan Hawke makes for a generic, but likable, protagonist, who sells home security systems for a living. The opening twenty minutes or so of The Purge are its best. Numerous plot points are foreshadowed: the jealous neighbour, the daughter who's dating an older boy, Hawke's family clearly profit from the purge etc. Also, at this point we don't know how the purge will play out, we hear snippets on the news as the clocks count down and everyone battens down the hatches. You'll be thinking of way more interesting scenarios than DeMonaco comes up with.
And after all that intriguing build-up the film quickly swaps its somewhat intriguing premise for basic home-invasion schlock. A group of prep-school types show up, lead by a nameless smarmy rich kid, played by Ryhs Wakefield, whose clearly having way more fun filming this movie than anyone else is. People run around the house in the dark, and we, the audience, squint to try to work out what the hell is happening. If anything, Wakefield's menacing character is severely underused and DeMonaco gets rid of him far too quickly after what had been an effective enough set-up for a villain.
We don't really get any information about any of the other purgers, they all run around manically with their creepy clown masks, which just makes me think DeMonaco saw someone from Anonymous wearing a V for Vendetta mask and thought he'd stick it in his film (remember this film is a "social commentary"). Although there is one rather fun scene where Ethan Hawke takes on three of the clown posse with a big-ass shotgun; another one of the films very few stand-out moments.
Speaking of the shotgun scene, there's actually not a lot of violence in the movie, especially when you consider that this is meant to be twelve hours of lawlessness. Now that's not to say that gratuitous gore would have made things better, it would have likely done the opposite, but the fact that during the purge we never see all that many unspeakable acts, the best hint is when we see a guy sharpening a machete on his front lawn during the movie's opening. There's just something altogether pedestrian about what a lot of these purgers get up to.
What's more, for all of the film's attempts at being a socio-political response to today's world, it's incredibly conservative and old-fashioned. The middle-class white family are the ones we're led to identify with, while the film's only working-class black character is there specifically to save the middle-class white family from the bad rich white folk. It would have been far more interesting to have followed the film from his perspective, since he's a direct victim of the purge. Furthermore, that way we might have got a better sense of how depraved these purge enthusiasts can be.
A lot of the problems with The Purge stem from the home-invasion plot not being all that suitable with the concept of a country-wide purge. Both the horror aspect, and the science fiction side of the movie are underwhelming, leaving just a sub-par thriller.
The Purge was released in UK theatres on May 31st.
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