Wishing to Purge This Movie From Existence
DIRECTED BY JAMES DEMONACO/2013
A good horror/thriller will most always possess these qualities: periods of tense expectation in the audience, a few quality scares (mostly likely a mix of the sudden action and impending doom variety), and the presence of at least one semi-intelligent character. Those being intact, odds are very good you’ll have a decent film on your hands.
Every now and then, something will come along like The Sixth Sense that also truly surprises with its premise or twist.
The Purge fails on all the former qualifications, and the interesting premise is lost in the pursuit of it getting its’ singular message across to the audience: rich people are awful.
If you’ve seen any of the trailers, you’ll know The Purge presents us with a not-so distant future where the American government, and the movie is very particular that this is an American event, is now being run by the New Founding Fathers who have instituted an annual event, whereby most crime is legalized for the period of 12 hours, and all emergency services are suspended. Level 4 weapons, which we are left to assume are explosive devices, are not allowed (never mind, that no one would be there to uphold such a rule), nor are you allowed to attack Level 10 government buildings or officials. The purpose of the Purge? Apparently, following some tough economic times, the New Founding Fathers initiated the event to purge both one’s inner negative feelings of anger, violence, homicidal tendencies and society of its’ poor and needy. The result is that America is flourishing like never before. Rich citizens put out flowers to indicate their support and spend the evening nice and safe in their protected homes, watching the carnage outside.
One such citizen is James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) and his upper class family. James, conveniently, sells the very security systems that protect the wealthy, such as his affluent neighbors (who also turn out to be awful rich people, unsurprisingly). For James, the Purge is not only good for business, but it is his business, and his family is awash in luxury. We are introduced to his teenage daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane), who is romantically involved with a slightly older boy to her father’s disapproval, providing a pretty empty side story. His son Charlie (Max Burkholder) drives around a half burned baby doll surveillance robot right out of Sid’s room from Toy Story, in case the audience missed the message that rich people are weird and out of touch with reality. On the night of the Purge, James, his wife (Lena Headley), along with his children plan to eat a late meal (totally losing track of time before the Purge, of course), and wait out the 12 hour massacre.
The plan falls apart when Charlie opens the barricade to let in a fleeing homeless veteran, and his rich, young homicidal pursuers come calling thereafter. At this point, the Sandins begin to display the most frustratingly idiotic behavior in their attempt to survive. They scatter separately, fail to call out or look for each other properly in a home that suddenly turns into some kind of labyrinth, hide while swinging lit flashlights all around in a darkened house, and plenty other boneheaded moves.
The rich pursuers are led by Rhys Wakefield, credited as the Polite Stranger, who actually looked the part in the trailer. Unfortunately, the actual result fares much worse, sadly descending into overacting as Wakefield mugs for the camera, switching between menacing and grinning, or laughing and threateningly whispering. In theory, it could have worked, but in The Purge it just comes across as trying too hard. The security system seems to subsist of a single metal barrier in the front of the house. Also, it doesn’t cover upstairs windows, so it isn’t long before the Polite Stranger and his merry band of clichés are inside terrorizing the Sandins. Audiences that enjoy characters in the forefront moving to reveal menacing characters in the background are rewarded several times over, since the film falls back on this practice again and again.
If one is able to buy the premise, they may have been able to find some enjoyment out of the film, but as the story progresses it becomes clearer and clearer that the plot only exists to put on full display how terrible rich people are. Some characters change slightly, but it would not be too much of a stretch to say that not a single wealthy character is portrayed as anything other than a homicidal, unhinged lunatic or, at least, a condoning bystander.
Headley and Hawke try to do their best with a ham-handed script, and as James and Mary move from blissfully complacent to what is occurring during the Purge to unnerved and finally fighting for their lives, you are aware that the audience is meant to empathize with their growing horror and returning humanity. It fails, because by this time the audience has already had the too obvious message of their evil opulence shoved down their gullets with a side of stupid, and it is hard to care about anyone but the kids.
The Purge is written and directed by James DeMonaco. It is his first major directorial project, and it shows. All the worst elements of a poorly constructed and written film are on full display, and it’s a shame that what for many people is an initially interesting and compelling alterna-reality is squandered in DeMonaco painful class warfare message.
If you want to see the interesting film teased in the trailers, avoid The Purge. If you want to see Rich People are A*Holes: The Movie, you may enjoy yourself. This reviewer did not and would like to purge the whole experience from my memory.