There is something to be said about having a great idea and attempting to make something of it. There is something more to be said about cultivating an idea and bringing it through to a cathartic conclusion. Unfortunately, James DeMonacco’s The Purge is definitely the latter.
Our story centers on American life ten years from now. In this dystopian, hopefully alternative future, Congress has passed a law that says once a year, for twelve hours, all laws – with unspecified exceptions – are completely suspended. Then we focus on the Sandin family, an upper class family who has blockaded themselves in for the night. That is, until the youngest son Charlie, played by Max Burkholder, sees a nameless poor man as a target, played by Edwin Hodge. He invites him into the house as a sanctuary, only to have his pursuers threaten to break into the house and slaughter the entire family. What follows is the moral quandary as the family decides whether to release the obviously reluctant hostage to the murderous masses, or if they want to hold him hostage and defend him and their household.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the film is the explanation for the rationale behind the night of the purge itself. There can be little to no argument that all people have naturally aggressive tendencies. But, we’re being led to believe that everyone has violent feelings and wants to act them out and that is the only way that we are able to function normally in society. The movie had the potential to raise significant moral questions- could this be because the government is trying to fix the economy by wiping out the poorer members of society? Does everyone have naturally aggressive tendencies and is it the suppression of them that leads to the stress in our lives? Well, The Purge isn’t going to answer those questions for us; it’s too busy killing rich white kids.
One of the strengths of the film is the acting. The leader of the angry mob, played by Rhys Wakefield, is a legitimately creepy character who steals the scene while not chewing it. The development of Ethan Hawke as he contemplates the full impact of each of his decisions is truly gripping. Finally, child actors are notoriously a hindrance; but this is not the case here. Both of the Sandin children carry a majority of the movie, and truly push the narrative.
One thing about the movie that left something to be desired was the small scale of what was going on. There were constant news broadcasts about the casualty reports; yet we only saw this little slice of suburbia. Throughout the entire time, we are only shown people committing acts of violence. With all crimes being suspended, and if people do in fact have a strong sense of violence that needs to be acted upon, shouldn’t there be significantly more vandalism, looting, rape and other crimes that aren’t murder?
The Purge is far from a horrible movie; it just isn’t a good one either. The dialogue is very well done, and all of the characters have a great interaction. There are hints of significant social commentary as well as a conscientious demeanor. However, it fails to truly bring any of these ideas to fruition. With such a centralized plot, it feels as though there is a lot going on in this world that should be explored and isn’t. The characters do a great job of interacting with each other and developing as the story progresses, but it’s a shallow, overly simplistic, grossly simplified psychology guiding a predictable and obnoxious plot. It is a relatively unique idea, but there needs to be more to a strong movie than just a good idea. Perhaps if there were more installments in this film, make it into a franchise so as to see the depths of the plot and perhaps even the true evil behind the purge itself, than it would be a much stronger film. However, as it is, it completely falls short. One and a half stars out of four.
Watch the trailer. The Purge opens nationwide June 7th.