The Purge (Review)

2013

85 min

United States

Director: James DeMonaco

Writer: James DeMonaco

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder

Release Date: June 7, 2013 (United States)


The Purge is a standard execution on an imbecilic episode of a golden idea.

When I first heard the concept for The Purge (a near-future America that has record low crime and unemployment rates due to a 12-hour period where practically all crime was legal) I instantly knew it was a brilliant idea for a horror movie and that the possibilities and scenarios that would stem from it were practically limitless. Then I actually thought about it... It's an asinine idea! In what world and with what creatures would a single day where you can get all the murder, plundering and rape out of your system possibly sustain/maintain itself? The psychology is laughable and the ideology is troubling. We're not operated by switches, rather we're built of complex wiring. You don't just go back to school or work the day after The Purge and live the next 364 days peacefully. It's a preposterous set-up... nonetheless, still a brilliant idea for a horror movie.

The problem with The Purge is not the ludicrousness of the synopsis, it's the idiocy of the one wealthy family we spend the Purge of 2022 with. To be clear, Ethan Hawke and Lena Heady, the father and mother of the Sandin family, are fine performers. In fact, none of my complaints really are about the work in front of or behind the camera during production. It's the script that writer/director James DeMonaco brought to the set and insisted upon that has me pulling my hair out. The heinous offenses start when the Purge starts and never let up:

- The casualness of the parental reminder over dinner ("It's Purge night, kids!")

- The ham-fisted explanation of how much good the Purge does for the country

- Waiting until the last minute to put the house in lockdown via an intense security system that's apparently only useful one night a year

- Letting your foolhardy child know the passcode to said security system

- The worthlessness of a security system that deters more than it actually obstructs (especially if its sole purpose is for Purge protection)

- The complete lack of order or keeping tabs on who's where and doing what

"Stupid" characters have been a staple in horror movies since the genre's conception. They reached new heights when the slasher genre was reborn in John Carpenter's Halloween. In some ways they act as cautionary tales for people they make easy mistakes. We watch the consequences take place and are horrified, thrilled or even entertained as a result. In some cases we might even start cheering for the bad guy. With The Purge I found all avenues blockaded by distracting choices. None felt like that of individual characters. All felt like a writer who needed more eyes and more drafts on a script.

The Purge is certainly competently made, but the plot gets in the way from almost the beginning. This is why the opening credits, which I assessed earlier this week, are far and away the best part of the film. If you don't mind screaming at your screen and likely losing investment with all members of a threatened family, you might still give The Purge a shot if nothing else than for the concept alone. The film became one of the most profitable films of last year (bringing in nearly $90 million on a $3 million budget) which is why we're seeing a sequel this weekend, a mere 13 months later. The Purge will continue. We can only hope for better years ahead and that we will learn valuable lessons from the fallen this time around.

Tonight allows people a release for all the hatred and violence that they keep up inside them.
— James Sandin