The Purge Reviews
Almost every character makes a choice that is either needlessly irrational or just utterly stupid, either way, it makes them all very unlikable.
- "Timmy" is a burnt baby doll with camera eyes glued to a remote control tank. It's way creepier than whatever you're thinking now.
- The idea of "The Purge" reminds me of the short story "The Lottery" and "The Running Man". How future dystopian societies cope with population control is...brutal. This movie has interesting political underpinnings that eerily mirror current society.
- There is a fishbowl filled with giant-sized dominos. People are weird.
- There's weird and then there's stupid. Henry is currently exhibiting a truckload of the latter.
- Aww yeah. Shit just got real. Mental note: don't give the disarm codes to the 11 yo.
- If murder is legal until a prescribed time, does it count if someone steps in a poison bear trap after the deadline?
- The lead actress is the warrior queen from 300. Now she's a blubbering waif. The former would not stand for what's currently happening and would have this whole situation under control.
- That...that appears to be an angry mob.
- That's an interesting Clockwork Orange twist.
- "We are going to ride the rest of this night out in motherfucking peace."
The Purge has an incredible concept. Set in the not-too-distant future, America is in a state of minimal crime, violence and unemployment due to the legalization of the titular Purge. This is an annual period of 12 hours in which it becomes completely legal to commit any crime, including murder. The fact that the script in The Purge goes out of its way to emphasize the psychological benefits of having The Purge active in America displays that there has clearly been a lot of thought put into the film. It's discussed that The Purge works as a time of release for the psychotics among society to let out all their rage and insanity. The subject matter surrounding The Purge is one which will always have relevance since reducing crime rates is an endless mission for society, and for a film to tackle such subject with a concept of rich potential sounded extremely engaging.
Really, it ended up being a film better for its ambitions than its actual narrative grasp. The Purge is not that much of a deep film. I didn't expect that it would be the most meaningful experience, but since it is bent on relying on the small scale of the home invasion thriller formula it needs to find ways to stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately, the actual aspect of the story promised by its title ends up being a simplistic afterthought in a narrative which is riddled with cliches. Given the few selective characters in the film there should really be some development so that the audience can care about them for reasons outside of simple obligation, but the film never progresses to that point. It touches upon some of the aforementioned ideas before stalling on the constraints of its budgetary limitations.
Given that The Purge has a budget of only $3 million, there is only so much it can do with its concept. So rather than attempting to be a big spectacle of a dystopian society, The Purge adgeres to the home invasion formula. The central narrative ends up drawing much inspiration from the John Carpenter action-thriller classic Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) which was actually remade in 2005 with Ethan Hawke in the lead role. The protagonist's family ends up providing refuge for a stray attempting to estape a hoard of psychopaths which leads to them intitating an all out war with the man and his family. It's frustrating enough that the film relies on formula, but the fact that the premise is so similar to another Ethan Hawke film makes the familiarity of the text all the more recognizable. With only 85 minutes of running time there isn't all that much room to expand beyond the generic limitations of the home invasion thriller formula, so its ideals end up playing second fiddle to a flurry of predictable dialogue and violence.
There are moments that hint at how the film could have been something more, but these just serve as a reminder of The Purge's shortcomings when it fails to live up to them. This is a real downfall for The Purge because when the characters attempt to provide insight into why their freedom to engage in violence is a purge for their souls and their violent obsessions, the fact that it is limited to so few words makes it seem like a cheap gimmick. The language is so limited in how much the story allows it to explore that the result is rather tacky, and so the motivations of the villains comes off as frustrating in the process. Essentially, The Purge functions as a decent genre picture but fails to establish anything beyond it while faltering in its attempts to.
But for what it's worth, The Purge is a comptenently made film. Even though there isn't always that much happening within the story, director James DeMonaco clearly knows how to build an atmosphere because he keeps things intense the entire time. Confinding the story to a singular location, James DeMonaco builds a claustophobic atmosphere through a mix of visuals and sound editing. The Purge uses a lot of extremely close-up scenery which emphasizes the imagery in everything it captures, and in the process it helps to empower the small scale of the story. The Purge also makes an intense use of silence and echoes along with a subtle musical score. The experience is a genuinely intense one at times, and it shows that the director is able to effectively work around a small budget to make a thrilling experience. The Purge isn't a great film, but it is a strong examination of the potential of James DeMonaco as a filmmaker.
A lot of the intensity in the film can be attributed to the performances of the cast, led by the talents of Ethan Hawke. Ethan Hawke is the ideal casting decision as the lead in The Purge largely because he is a recognizable actor yet he is not one of such contemporary significance that his star power would detract from embracing his character. He emits the feeling of an everyman which is exactly what the character James Sandin needs, and with an actor as genuinely talented as Ethan Hawke the performance is memorable. Ethan Hawke strips away anything iconic about himself to portray James Sandin, peeling back the layers to expose his humanity. As a result, we have a performance which is consistently riddled with intense fear and uncertainty rather than Hollywood heroism, and with such strong humanity in the part we see the heroic elements of his character coming off as being far more convincing. Ethan Hawke leads The Purge with a performance rich in tension both in his line delivery and with his physical movements, never dropping out of the character and making the situation of the film seem like a reality. He delivers a very solid leading effort.
Lena Headey is also a great casting decision. Given the wide recognition she has earned for portraying Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones (2011-present) one would think that it would be harder to separate the two, yet with slight alterations to her appearance and an emphasis more on the archetype her character represents than any particular individuality she seamlessly delivers a convincing effort. Sharing an intense chemistry with Ethan Hawke, the two of them work off each other very well to both make convincing portrayals of suburban archetypes. And Lena Headey proves more emotionally frail of the two, making her sporadic moments of heroism all the more striking as a result. She really gets deep down into the emotional state of the character and develops very well across the narrative, exiting the story numb from all the trauma her character experiences. It's refreshing to see Lena Headey taking on such a simple role because her talent for character acting is very distinctive, and The Purge proves that she can separate herself from her legacy for a far more simplistic role. Lena Headey makes an engaging duo with Ethan Hawke and a very intense presence of her own right.
The Purge's low budget doesn't prevent James DeMonaco from creating an intense atmosphere or wringing some powerful performances out of its lead actors, but it does prevent him from taking advantage of his story potential and leaves it mired in home-invasion conventions.
I give it a 30%.