Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder
You may like this if you like: Straw Dogs (Rod Lurie, 2011), The Strangers (Bryan Bertino, 2008), Black Christmas (Glen Morgan, 2006)
America, 2022 “a nation reborn” apparently with extremely low unemployment and even lower crime, in which the Government allows an annual 12 hour period known as ‘The Purge’. During this period all crime, including murder (with the exception of senior Politicians), is legal and all emergency services are suspended. James Sandin (Hawke) is an affluent security system salesman, and he and his family lock down their home for the 12 hour period. However, when an injured stranger enters their home they are forced to make the moral decision as to whether to release him to those that hunt him or to defend their home.
When I first heard about this film I was unsure about the concept, as it just sounded silly. After seeing the film I still think overall it is a little silly and would never happen in a Western democracy, but this is the future so I will go with it. The idea of this Purge is that if people are allowed to release all their pent up anger and aggression once a year then the rest of the time the world is a much better place. There are then political arguments hinted at in that it is a way of pruning the population and it is the poor that suffer. These are for me potentially interesting ideas, the whole Lord of the Flies notion that at heart we are of course a violent and savage species. If examined in the right way, this could have been an interesting film exploring some potentially fascinating moral and political issues.
However, the main problem of The Purge in my view is that it has no idea what it wants to be. It does hint at being a political satire or a social commentary, but is most of the time just a dumb action film. Not only that, it is also poorly written with some extremely clunky dialogue that treats the audience like idiots, and is quite frankly extremely boring despite only being 85 minutes. Everything has to be explained again and again, maybe just to fill the running time, and it is ultimately a boring and frustrating experience.
There was potential with some interesting plot ideas (I won’t spoil it) and questioning just how violent the human race can be when it is socially accepted, but it is all executed so badly that any genuine tension and interest is immediately hard to find. Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey are good actors, but even they look a bit bored and the decisions some of the characters make are beyond comprehension and extremely irritating.
What I found particularly frustrating was that every so often there were hints at an interesting idea or question, but that was soon ignored at the expense of stupid plot developments or extremely boring ‘action’. I know this film had a very low budget, but that is no excuse for poor dialogue and extremely underwritten two dimensional characters.
I know this film made a huge profit, and there is already a sequel in the pipeline. There is no denying that this is a concept that has legs if explored in the right ways, but I expect it to turn into another Saw style franchise.
The Purge is a perfect example of how to take a potentially interesting idea and completely ruin it. If in the hands of a more intelligent film maker this could have been a tense and thought provoking film, but instead is a boring, empty and ultimately irritating experience.