– Summary –
Director : James DeMonaco
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Rhys Wakefield, Edwin Hodge, Tony Oller, Arija Bareikis.
Approx Running Time : 85 Minutes
Synopsis: A family finds their home and lives under threat during the annual Purge, a 12 hour period where all crime is sanctioned by the Government in order for pe0ple to release pent-up aggression.
What we think : What begins as a tense, masochistic thriller soon descends into a standard run-and-gun bloodbath, as the inevitable corruption of a perfectly working system allows flaws in the premise to generate excitement. I’m not sure the premise allows for an educated or rational examination of violence in society, because the violence the central family abhors becomes their eventual savior (to a point), and the intended thrills of the piece seem to fall flat a lot of the time (especially in the final third), but if this is your kind of thing, then have at it. Fans of sadism and relentless, meaningless slayings will appreciate The Purge. The rest of you probably wont.
Never, ever give children your access codes.
They say violence never solves anything. “They”, those idiots, never watched The Purge. In film form, The Purge tries to elicit a response to violence if it was focused on a single evening of wanton destruction, sanctioned and legal, with zero repercussions for 364 other days of peace and calm. Because Americans can’t seem to control the urge to slaughter each other, we need films like The Purge to teach us all that killing is Bad, and wanting to protect life is Good. Like some bizarre class of social ethics. The Purge’s core premise feels like some kind of political barb aimed at the NRA (I’m drawing a long bow, I know) and you get the sense that the underlying message in the film is one of current US gun policy insanity ramped up to maximum; it’s a shame that The Purge mixes its messages amongst the wanton destruction and casual, almost righteous violence it concludes with, leaving a deadening, creaky resolution in place of some kind of statement. I guess the question to ask about it all is this: where do you draw the line between defending your family, and standing up for what’s right?
It’s 2022, and the United States has found a solution to employment and crime. Every year, for 12 hours on one specific night, an event known as The Purge takes place. Between 7pm and 7am on this night, violence, crime and murder are sanctioned by the Government, without fear of reprisal or criminal adjudication. In other words, it’s everyone for themselves. This is done in order to provide a release to the population, a way of getting all the pent up rage and anger out in one evening of unbridled human debauchery. On the night of one such purge, the Sandin family – James (Ethan Hawke), Mary (Lena Headey) and their two children, Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder) activate their security barricades to effectively barricade themselves inside, to wait out the night. Two things go wrong with their plan for an uneventful evening: Charlie has an attack of conscience and lets in a beaten, fleeing man (Edwin Hodge) and potentially risks all their lives, while Zoey’s older boyfriend, Henry (Tony Oller) has snuck inside to ostensibly ask James’s permission to date his daughter. Pursuing the fleeing man is a gang of masked vigilantes, led by the Polite Leader (Rhys Wakefield), who threatens the Sandin’s with execution should they not send the fleeing man out to face them. The dilemma unfolds: do the Sandin’s risk death by saving an innocent man, or save themselves by sending him outside?
If you’d read the above paragraph synopsis, you’d immediately see where the entire film pivots from relatively innocuous, and into the bloodbath it turns into. Charlie, the Sandin’s young son, deactivates the security system to allow a complete stranger into their house, on the most dangerous night of the year. How and why Charlie was ever given the access code for said security system is the point at which I threw my arms up in the air and screamed “of course, because the dumb kid just has to go and ruin it for everyone”…. which is partially the point. The Purge raises a terrific question of where you or I would stand if we were in a similar situation. You have an opportunity to save an innocent man (at least, you hope he’s innocent) or run the risk of letting a psychopath into your inner sanctum. Do you take that risk? Charlie, in a moment of human decency, does the stupidest thing in the world, and unravels the family unit as a result. In the face of almost certain death, the kids in this film are complete imbeciles. Charlie thinks he some altruistic angel of mercy, while his sister, Zoey, can’t get past the fact that her boyfriend is killed in a firefight early on in the film. It’s a spoiler, yeah. Sometimes, kids, ya gotsta man up and deal with what life’s throwing at you.
So, with two stupid kids trying to ruin an otherwise peaceful night of depravity and watching movies, Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey find themselves under attack by a vicious, violent gang of murderous Americans, intent on killing everything they find inside the house. The gang is led by Aussie soap actor Rhys Wakefield, playing a character who looks an awful lot like the love-child of Julian Assange and Benedict Cumberbatch. Wakefield is insidiously odious in the role, delivering the creepy with every ounce of his skill. It’s a pity he’s all talk and no bite – Wakefield’s character meets his inevitable end (c’mon, he’s the Bad Guy) in the most obvious of ways, and his impact on the film isn’t as definitive as it could have been. The Polite Leader shows his decisive demeanor by executing one of his accomplices simply for insulting the Sandin family, but once the barriers to the home come down, and the gang find their way inside, he all but disappears from the film. Until the end, of course. But he’s no Boss Level villain; he’s just some freak who gets his kicks from killing people.
Lena Headey and Ethan Hawke do very well with their thinly written characters. Headey, as the Sandin matriarch, summons all her terror and maternal defensiveness as her family is assaulted by these invaders to their home, while Hawke gets his Fight Scene on as he goes toe-to-toe with some of the vigilantes in his turf. The script tries to give both leads something to hang their characters on – Hawke’s James is a security system salesman, and a successful one at that, while Headey is the standard wealthy-wife type, who doesn’t really fit in within her neighborhood, a factor which comes home to roost late in the movie. Any twist or turn in the film is handled with a slipshod style by director James DeMonaco, who skips through potential personality clashes like he’s flipping pages in a street directory. Elements of James Sandin’s work, and how that translates to problems for the family once the attack begins, are thrown about as if people are discussing the weather, and had these underlying elements really been built on, the added tension might have given rise to a better film.
With all these potentially fascinating elements all competing for space in the script, surrounding a fairly basic plot, you’d be forgiven for thinking the film might buckle under all that’s asked of it. In actuality, The Purge does buckle, but under the inadequacy with which the script is developed. By not allowing space for more character fine-tuning, by trying to get to the action quicker, by trying to create a sense of dread faster than the audience will accept, The Purge feels like a Hitchcockian misfire for the opening half, and an Eli Roth-esque horror-show for the last. At a brisk 85 minutes (including credits), the film lacks the breathing space to explore with any profundity the themes it throws up, and goes for the jugular way too quickly for any tension or creepy, eerie skin-crawling malevolence to seep in. The obligatory jump-cuts and Boo-moments elicit some frights, but on the whole the latter half of The Purge deviates into a shadowy, hoary old cliche of gunfire and human sadism. Without the emotional buildup to give foundation to the events of the film, its all a load of hoo-haa with limited repercussions whatsoever.
The Purge will nearly satisfy those seeking some editorializing on American violence, be it good or bad. The Purge will nearly satisfy those seeking a good old fashioned scare fest. The Purge will nearly satisfy those seeking a bunch of creepy dudes terrorizing an innocent family during the night. It’s the thing about The Purge; a lot of the film feels so much like nearly that it never reached achieved. A few decent scares (and a nice twist to kick off the third act) stop The Purge from being a total write-off, but a lack of impactful characterization and the way the film unravels once the gang of killers gains access to the house leave something of a wreck from what could have been a nice little thriller, with plenty to say.