In the year 2022, all crime is legal in America for only 12 hours each year. During this time period, you can murder, pillage, rape, steal and presumably...gasp!...even smoke a blunt to your heart's content. The result is that this "Purge Day" has boosted our economy, with unemployment dropping to just 1%, since many of the victims on this day tend to be the poor, lower class.
Admittedly, this is a fairly interesting premise given to us in the new film, The Purge (opening this weekend).
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
But a fairly interesting premise is all that The Purge has to offer. It quickly degenerates into a mindless, uninspired hack thriller posing as some sort of clever social satire. It is chock-full of bad acting and even worse dialogue, grandstanding on some sort of moral high ground but saying very little about the blood-thirsty citizens of our country that it seems aimed at. Had I not seen Movie 43 back in January, The Purge would easily fill the category of "worst film of 2013" by a long-shot.
After the premise is laid out for us, we meet dad James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), as he returns to his home and family after a long day's work. They are preparing for the "lock down" of their house, which should be fairly easy provided that James is the one who designed the security systems on all of the houses in his neighborhood.
His wife (Lena Headey, from HBO's Game of Thrones) - who does have a name in the film, but shall simply be called "wife" here, since she is given no other characterization or purpose - and his two children, the rebellious teenage daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and the young boy Charlie (Max Burkholder) seem ready for the annual lock-down as well.
When "Purge Day" officially begins, Charlie inexplicably opens up his home's defenses to let in a stray homeless man (Edwin Hodge). A group of masked gun-toting bad guys soon show up to the Sandin's home and demand that they release this "swine" back to them. Not wanting to throw this man to the wolves - and not being able to find him within their giant house - the bad guys break in and begin their man-hunt.
The whole "crime is legal for a day" set-up in The Purge is a fragile idea that should float well over the heads of the popcorn cavemen and women of the world. But anyone with a brain will have serious questions about it, questions that are not addressed and/or are glossed over in the film. So let's say my family is killed during the Purge, I would simply not want to seek revenge or go after the people responsible? Imagine the property damage following a 12-hour nation-wide free-for-all. If I steal your family jewels during the Purge, are they legally mine tomorrow? How does this Purge go over with Catholics in our country, or anybody with a religious or moral bone in their body?
Sorry, but for a movie to be effective it has to make sense in the context of its own rules. These bigger picture questions are conveniently skipped over, because the real push of the movie is to present us with yet another trapped-in-our-house thriller.
Every single tired machination of the horror/thriller genre is pulled out here, to the degree that you can see each development coming more than a mile a way. The most enthralling films of the genre tend to include characters that we care about, but there are no real people in The Purge.
The biggest insult of all are the borderline-hilarious decisions made by the characters throughout the film, decisions that have to be made or nothing would have happened at all. For example, why in the world would Charlie decide suddenly to open his home to a random guy running down the street? Why would he know the security codes to even do such a thing? The daughter's boyfriend tries to kill the father at one point...doesn't he realize that, although legal, that killing his future father-in-law may not go over so well with his girl? What good did it do for the bad guys to cut the power off inside the house, other than to ensure that the whole movie could take place in the dark? Wouldn't you think that the lights might have helped them find the homeless man a bit sooner?
The questions go on and on, but The Purge doesn't deserve any thoughts that exist outside the shallow end of the pool. It did get one thing right: Us humans do have an insatiable need and desire for violence. In my screening audience for example, people would laugh and cheer as people were maimed, killed, shot and punished. These are the same people who probably find the hollow ideas presented in The Purge to be high-concept.
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Run Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield
Written & Directed by James DeMonaco (Little New York)
Opens locally on Friday, June 7, 2013
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