Written and directed by James DeMonaco
The Purge is the very definition of a high concept film, and what a brilliant concept it is. In the not-too-distant future, America decides to solve it’s crime and economic issues by allowing an annual purge, one night of the year when all crime is legal, including murder. “The new founding fathers” (whoever they may be) dictate that police and other emergency crews take the night off and mayhem erupts on the streets, allowing disgruntled employees to murder their bosses, neighbour to murder neighbour and for society as a whole to vent it’s anger and frustration.
Ethan Hawke plays James Sandin, a successful home security salesman. So successful in fact, that most of his neighbourhood is fitted out with his brand of barracades and surveillance cameras, and a new wing has been added to their already palatial home. His wife, Mary (played by the fantastic Lena Headey) makes awkward small talk with neighbours and totters around their kitchen in sky-scraping high heels, and their two children are attractive and intelligent. Early on we are shown how despite outward appearances, all is not rosy in the Sandin’s world, with simmering resentment coming from a cookie-gift-bearing neighbour, as well as from the daughter’s boyfriend, whom James has branded as being too old for her.
TV news reports tell us that The Purge is not just a way for “loyal” Americans to vent their anger in one burst, but may also be a way of removing the poor and vulnerable from society, eliminating an economic drain on the country as a whole.
Once 7pm rolls around, the Sandin’s put their home on lockdown, metal shutters covering doors and windows, and get their guns ready. All is quiet, until son Charlie (Max Burkholder) decides to let a distressed homeless man in to the house after he spies him on CCTV calling for help. However, the people in pursuit of the mysterious homeless man aren’t keen to let him be saved.
Now the concept is fascinating, and the set up could allow for a whole gamut of both intelligent social commentary and /or gratuitous violence. Unfortunately the film is a rather one-note affair, concentrating instead on a group of W.A.S.P.s laying siege to the Sandin’s home. While the performances are all good, and as a home invasion/siege movie (incidentally DeMonaco also wrote the screenplay for the 2005 version of Assault on Precinct 13) it is perfectly serviceable, the whole thing seems like a massive wasted opportunity. Side plots involving the daughter’s boyfriend fizzle out early on, and a one-eyed robot is wasted as nothing more than a glorified remote controlled torch. The Purge could have been a much more exciting movie than the pedestrian affair we are presented with.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be writing the script for the version of The Purge I would have liked to have seen.
2 out of 5