Release Date: June 7, 2013
'The Purge' squanders its intriguing concept with a typical home invasion formula.
Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 16 Tyler Galleria
Time: 9:40 pm June 9, 2013
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 25 min
Studio: Universal Pictures
Loves: The idea behind the film
Likes: Ethan Hawke, Lena Heady, low budget films with big ambitions
Neutral: Films that fail to meet those ambitions
Hates: The wasted potential of such an interesting concept
Producer Jason Blum: is also responsible for the Paranormal Activity, Insidious and Sinister franchises
Every now and then a film comes along that captures the imagination of movie goers everywhere. Where they can talk endlessly about one subject and never run out of topics. Rarely do we see such a phenomenon in the horror/slasher genre though. Where as big Hollywood summer blockbusters continue to deliver the expected thrills and chills, along comes "The Purge", a film with a single great idea that is almost enough to save it from its own mediocrity, unfortunately those who find their imagination stirred by the premise of the film will also discover that it can't deliver anything nearly as clever as what they can think up on their own.
Set in 2022, the United States has adopted a new law that allows its citizens a single night to purge themselves of all their wicked thoughts and actions. Instituted by the new founding fathers, this system makes all crime legal in which no emergency services will be available for a 12 hour period of time all across the nation. Neighbors, family, friends, co-workers, everyone can and is encouraged to participate and anyone can become a victim. Those who choose not to participate, as well as those who can afford it, barricade themselves inside their homes with state of the art security systems in hopes to be left alone while others roam the streets in search of their release.
The opening scenes of the film hold a lot of promise as we see a series of random acts of violence via security camera footage taken from the previous years purge. It sets the stage well for a world that has adopted this unorthodox, yet apparently functional way of life that allows every citizen of the United States to commit whichever crimes they deem necessary to purge their wickedness for the next year. But all this promise comes crashing down as soon as the Sandin's lock down their house and we spend the entirety of this surprisingly brief film in their home.
The film centers on one particular family, the Sandin's. A husband (Ethan Hawke) and wife (Lena Heady) and their two children, a teenage daughter (Adelaide Kane) and preteen son (Max Burkholder). They are not interested in participating in the purge and have opted to seal themselves in their home for the night. Thinking they are untouchable since they live in a wealthy neighborhood, they go about their evening like any other trying to not think about the atrocities being committed outside their domicile. Their normal evening gets interrupted however when they let in a man running for his life and the group of people hunting him down threaten to kill everyone inside unless they give him up.
You see, the idea behind the purge is a great one. It isn't as original as some may think (it borrows heavily from a old and very obscure Star Trek episode), but it's surprising that no one has attempted to make a feature out of the premise until now. It's one of those rare ideas that gets in your head and you start to churn out countless iterations on how to exploit such an intriguing idea.
Which is why it is such a letdown that writer/director James DeMonaco has chosen to use the tired home invasion horror movie formula instead of something more thought provoking, something that could take full advantage of such a ripe concept. We have seen people fight for their lives while fending off intruders in other, much less ambitious films, and ones that were made much better than this.
Even more disheartening are the group of people trying to get into the Sandin home. They are just your everyday run of the mill psychopaths when it is all said and done. Sure, they have a free license to murder people, but given the fact that the purge allows anyone to commit murder, it would have been infinitely more fascinating to have the killers be more...normal. The way they antagonize the Sandin's and their clear lack of self preservation leads one to wonder how these kids could ever function in the world for an entire year without killing someone.
There are inspired moments sprinkled about that briefly show the potential for a much more interesting movie, an angry boyfriend confronting the father of his girlfriend or other acquaintances who hold a deep and ugly grudge against you but act as your friend when engaged in small talk, these are the people and situations the film should have focused on. While it gets some credit for including them into the mix, the fact that they weren't the films true focus is a real let down and ultimately serves to illustrate the number of wrong decisions that were made during its development.
There is of course the argument that this is one of any number of situations they could have chosen and due to an extremely small budget, they had to make due with an idea that would allow the filmmakers to exploit a single location. For what it is, "The Purge" isn't exactly without merit, it can be an effective thriller at times. Bearing witness to this family under siege does quicken the pulse from time to time, but any tension the film successfully builds up is done away by some truly idiotic protagonists.
The Sandin family are morons. They are morons who continuously act in contradiction of the world they have CHOSEN to live in. It is important to note that they are not forced to live in the United States, so whether they are for or against the annual purge, if they decide to stay within our borders, they should act accordingly. So, when the time comes to make a life or death decision that will determine the fate of their entire family, the choice is clear...and they make the wrong one.
Yes, they do make the moral decision, but they live in a country where morals will get you killed one night a year, and they got moral at the wrong time. This is all without even mentioning the idiocy of living in this world and not being properly prepared to protect themselves (3 guns, a KNOWN faulty security system, and two teenage children who have no knowledge how to protect themselves, nor seem to understand the danger outside their fortified home).
It really feels as though the Sandin's were dropped in from an alternate universe where they are unaware of where they are. Once you start to question their logic or lack there of, you start to question everything. If they want nothing to do with the purge, why not move out of the country? Better yet, if they want to continue to live in the country, why not just take a vacation abroad for the day? These questions and more just continue to stack as the film moves along (such as why the hell does the young and innocent kid have not only easy access to the security system, but also the code to shut it all down?).
It all comes down to the reality of the world constructed and since these psychopaths are acting in their rights of the law, it makes it difficult to build sympathy for anyone who opposes them. Perhaps if the film had not treated the purge as an actual good thing (we never meet anyone who is outright opposed to it), then maybe there would have been a reason for the audience to be opposed to it. But as it stands, with the entire country in favor of this law except for this one stupid family we happen to follow, it makes no sense for the film to try and inspire sympathy in us or expect us to denounce the purge when it makes no such gestures itself.
"The Purge" is one of the most frustrating films this reviewer has come along in quite a long time. Not even a surprise twist ending, that was better than the entire film, could save it from its number of failures and flaws. From the asinine characters, to its complete failure to take advantage of such a lucrative premise, this is a film that has gotten a lot of mileage out of something that it doesn't really deliver on, and that just sucks.
There are talks that the studio has already green-lit a sequel, so here is hoping they do something more interesting with it next time around and use a little more imagination next time and create characters we can care about instead of characters we are constantly rooting for to meet a gruesome end. This one is a tough call, but if you are at all interested in it just wait for it to be released on demand.