By Jessica Delfanti | June 7, 2013
Director: James DeMonaco
Writer: James DeMonaco
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Heady, Rhys Wakefield, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder
The concept of isolated violent events providing an outlet for society’s innate aggression is something that comes up frequently in philosophical theories, but rarely has it been so thoroughly butchered as in James DeMonaco’s heavy handed horror The Purge. In the blue and grey scaled world of The Purge, America has finally found peace via a striking tradition: a single day each year when murder is legal.
While the concept isn’t novel, it is exciting, and in someone else’s hands the film might have been an engaging and chilling experience. Who can’t imagine the streets roamed by weapon-toting gangs, the secret vendettas playing out in backyards, the workplace and familial aggressions coming to a head? A film where an everyman is forced to survive in the face of that brutality– now that’s a film I’d like to see.
The Purge, instead, focuses on an uber wealthy family that can afford to protect itself from the day of violence. James (Ethan Hawke) has made a fortune installing heavy duty security systems in his cookie cutter suburb, and intends to treat the night of the Purge as a period of “relaxation” with his family. His wife, Mary (Lena Headey) and children (Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane) don’t share his confidence, but are content enough to hide behind reinforced walls while the violence rages outside. When an inexplicable series of events cripples the family’s security system, a home invasion plot that could have been taken from any other home invasion movie plays out for the rest of the film.
Not only does the film fail to take advantage of the potentially exciting backdrop to bring anything new to the home invasion narrative, but it also fails at being a good, tense “survive the night” film. The characters are ridiculously dumb, doing things like splitting up and wandering around the mansion on their own, shining bright lights around to let everyone know their locations, and opening doors they shouldn’t. The action is predictable, the plot points are predictable, and the twist is predictable. What little enjoyment comes from the movie’s silliness is quickly tempered by how ridiculous everything is, and how random the premise feels in relation to the film’s content.
In practice, it feels very much like a film that was pitched as a premise: “For one night only, murder is legal!” But once it moved onto the script writing stage? You have to wonder how the film enticed actors with the caliber of Hawke and Heady to such a dud of a project. Last the night? Let’s see how many people can last through the whole film.