'The Purge' Movie Review: Instills Fear With (Hopefully) Unlikely Storyline
A surprising hit at the box office this weekend, The Purge has proven to be more than just an overdone home invasion film. Written and directed by James DeMonaco, and starring Ethan Hawke (Sinister) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), The Purge shows a far-fetched, yet eerie realistic view of what American society could become.
Set a mere nine years into the future, unemployment rate rests at 1%, society is peaceful and pristine, and living the American dream is as attainable as it’s ever been. With the decree the country’s new founding fathers have set into place, crime is eradicated, except once a year when citizens are allowed to “release the beast” and take part in the annual purge. The one time a year where all emergency services are suspended, and for 12 hours all crime — including murder — is legal.
By purging, Americans can indulge in the hate and rage they keep bottled up inside them for 364 days. This means getting back at an ex-lover, that boss you can’t stand, or that kid back in middle school who embarrassed you every day on the school bus. Anything goes, which for the economically privileged is an advantage since the purge does very well with eliminating the poor, mirroring Darwin’s theory of evolution.
The film focuses on the Sandin family, James (Hawke), a home security salesman who just profited big after selling his system to every expensive home in his near-perfect gated community, his wife, Mary (Headey), and their two kids, Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane). After Mary has an awkward run-in with her annoying neighbor, who seems to resent the Sandin’s success and the new addition they’ve built onto their home, the family comes together to arm their home — an elaborate scene with descending metal covers for the doors and windows, security cameras and more — to wait out the disturbing night in peace.
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After purge night officially commences at 7:00 p.m., the movie rapidly starts to pick up pace as Zoey’s boyfriend (Tony Oller) appears in her room, revealing he snuck into the house before lockdown to talk to Mr. Sandin about his disapproval of their young love. And Charlie temporarily disarms the house to let in a wounded man (Edwin Hodge) he sees on the street seeking help. Things escalate with a shootout between James and Zoey’s boyfriend — leaving the boyfriend dead — and the random homeless man also runs loose in the house. This sparks the curiosity of a group of Mason family look-a-likes donning creepy masks — similar to those in the film The Strangers — that insist the Sandins — being one of their own — release the “homeless swine” that has sought sanctuary in their home so they may purge as they please and annihilate him. Failing to do so in the time provided by the gang’s leader (Rhys Wakefield), the gang breaks into the home that seemed to be foolproof and aims to wreak havoc on the Sandins, fully embracing the night to purge.
Hawke provides what I think to be a pretty convincing performance as a father whose main objective is to protect his family at all costs. His character goes as far as tying up the homeless man in the hopes of delivering him to the psycho purgers waiting outside their home. The film does lack heavy dialogue, as one would suspect as its total premise is to show the demise of people’s moral consciousness in order to survive and to engage in murder for release. The genre has been done before in terms of the serial killers who invade the home of a nice low-laying family (The Strangers, Straw Dogs, Funny Games, Panic Room), but what makes The Purge different is the social satire it hints at (however it could’ve done a better job exploring it).
The acting provides no Oscar-worthy performances, but for a thriller I think the actors did exactly what they were told, which for me shows that although the film has a great plot, little effort was made to go above and beyond the stereotypical thriller archetype. The film also lacks the action that moviegoers are expecting to see, and produces a twist at the end that any thriller connoisseur could see coming a mile away. Of course, there are plenty of gunshots, stabs, hand-to-hand combat, and the all too familiar missed opportunity to kill the predator. It’s disappointing that with such an intriguing plot, The Purge doesn’t dare be a satirical sophisticated piece of work.
That being said, the fresh plot alone is enough to make this film somewhat satisfying and something to see when you’ve got nothing else going on. I found myself growing more uncomfortable after every scene because the thought of crime being legal for a night is terrifying on levels that are inconceivable. To me, this type of thriller is better than the run-of-the-mill gory slasher film any day because this fear is realistic. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be unsettled by the idea of all hell breaking loose for an entire night with only hope to keep you and your family safe.
It has to be said that The Purge is in no way the best thriller to come out in the past couple of years, let alone one of the best ever, but its plot is very ambitious and, had it been more developed, could have blown fans away. The film had a great eye-catching trailer that had fans waiting for the film’s release for months, and the fact that it beat out the Owen Wilson/Vince Vaughn flick The Internship — raking in $36.4 million to The Internship's $18.1 million — will definitely lure people in to see what it’s all about. My suggestion is to go in without any expectations and it might prove to be a pretty good show.
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