Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Purge

Morality is a tricky subject to tackle in today’s Hollywood. It makes for great drama when handled correctly or can just become a mess of preachy junk in the wrong hands. Unfortunately in my opinion The Purge falls into the latter category.

In the near future the US government creates “The Purge”, a single night each year when everyone can embrace the 12-hours of lawlessness and indulge in their most violent tendencies. When a wealthy family comes under attack by a gang of ruthless psychopaths due to their taking in of a targeted homeless man they must decide if they will give him up to save themselves or fight for what’s right.
The set-up is great. We learn that due to “The Purge” the unemployment rate has dropped to 1%, violence is extremely low and the economy is flourishing. This is all due to the fact that the homeless and poor are the prime targets during “The Purge”, mostly by the rich. The world created by writer/director James DeMonaco is a fascinating one, filled with so much venom aimed directly at the well-to-do that it’s almost as if he’s predicting that this is what will become of society if they continue to dictate the way the country develops.

We are then introduced to the main characters, wealthy parents James and Mary (Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey), their teenage daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and adolescent son Charlie (Max Burkholder). They are about as generic as they come, except that Charlie is a little nutty, possibly autistic (it’s never explored). We see that they are the typical family with typical problems. They discuss “The Purge” a little at an overlong dinner scene but nothing of note is divulged except that the parents never participate due to the fact that they “don’t feel the need to”.
So when Charlie shuts down the house’s defenses during “The Purge” to allow an injured homeless man onto their property I promptly lost interest in the film. Why? Because it was never properly set up. Not once did the Charlie character voice his opinion on the morality issues “The Purge” presents, nor the fact that he is sensitive to the pain of others. We just know that he’s the weird one in the family and we are expected to accept the fact that this dumbass jeopardized the safety of his whole family because some random person ran down their street begging for help. What’s worse is the fact that his family barely reacts to it at all. It happens, they ask him what he did, he tells them and that’s it. The fact that not one of them got upset or pissed off that this kid could have just let a maniac into their home irked me to the extreme. And when the gang of Purgers shows up at their doorstep threatening to kill them all if they don’t turn over the man the family yet again doesn’t address that this little shitheel put them into this position to begin with. The writing is lazy, plain and simple.

Sure the movie features some suspenseful set-pieces. Once the Purgers manage to infiltrate the house the flick turns into a violent cat and mouse game with all the members of the family fighting for their lives. There are also some great twists and turns that present themselves, none of which I will ruin here. Trust me, they present themselves in organic ways unlike the main inciting incident I mentioned above.
Ethan Hawke is turning into the male equivalent of a scream queen (Daybreakers, Sinister). I’m not complaining since I think he manages to turn in awesome performances in these types of films - something horror movies usually are lacking in the extreme. He gives a very grounded performance here, as does Lena Headey as his spouse. I wasn’t a fan of the actors chosen to play the kids, but it wasn’t their fault since they are written horribly. I was mightily impressed with Rhys Wakefield (Sanctum) as the leader of the Purgers. With only a handful of scenes, most of which find him speaking through a monitor, he manages to project an insane amount of menace. I want to see him in more movies.

If it weren’t for the lame event that was devised by DeMonaco to get the ball rolling I might have liked this flick more. A few lines of dialogue are all it would have taken to set-up the situation and I would have bought everything hook, line and sinker. As it is, I consider it a major plot hole that ruins the film for me completely. Sure there are some cool things going on now and then, especially in the film’s final minutes involving the pettiness of certain individuals to further drive home the social commentary, but outside of that and the great central idea behind “The Purge” I will say the movie is a lot of wasted potential that could have been an amazingly interesting thriller, but due to some weak writing is brought down to a less than mediocre status.
Maybe the sequel, which is now on the fast track due to the unexpected success of this film, will fix the problems The Purge stumbles over.

2 out of 5

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