The Purge Review

Director: James DeMonaco
Writer: James DeMonaco
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane
Running time: 85 minutes
Year: 2013

The Purge arrives fashionably late to the home invasion party. From director James DeMonaco, this creepy intruder thriller is underpinned by giant helpings of social commentary. But would these motifs have better suited two separate films?

Such a pertinent enquiry into the social class system is broadly examined by the film’s premise. On one night of the year, all US citizens are entitled to purge their hatred pent up over the previous twelve months. Fully sanctioned by the government the emergency services stand down for twelve hours and anything goes: murder; rape; maiming; looting. All crime is allowed. For those who don’t wish to participate, companies offer state of the art home security systems.

This is where Ethan Hawke comes in. As James Sandin, the leading seller of the high price tag systems, one Purge proves to be a challenge to those rigorous deterrents. His cocksure family man swaggers with confidence knowing that his family need never worry about an attack during the coming Purge.

He’s a clear target for being knocked down a peg or to. And why shouldn’t he be? Forced upon the audience is a definite message. If you’re rich, you are exempt from the hardships society throws at us. If you’re poor, you’re not so lucky. It’s a heavy handed approach, beating the audience over the head with it every chance it gets. From an opening title card to dialogue ridden with forced exposition as a way of justifying such savagery. The filmmakers ask the question: would the country benefit from wiping out the lower class?

“Forced upon the audience is a definite message. If you’re rich, you are exempt from the hardships society throws at us. If you’re poor, you’re not so lucky.”

The 2%-as-exempt could represent any sufferance those of us without riches endure. The film tackles repressed violence, but it could easily extend to the millions of Americans who struggle to pay for healthcare and/or a decent education. Watching Hawke casually flick through a brochure for yachts is more than enough to make anyone want to break into his house and smash his Faberge eggs.

Losing its grip on a genuinely exciting premise, The Purge suffers due to its shoddy plot machinations. When the lockdown commences for the event and the emergency broadcast airs to the sound of a siren, you assume this family will be fine. They’ll be safe. With head of the household Hawke dominating the security market, he’s a man in the know. If that’s the case, then why does the rest of his family make such illogical decisions?

Not to spoil the film (this is all in the trailer), Sandin’s son, Charlie (Max Burkholder), upon hearing a man plea for help in the middle of the street has a genius idea. Let down the ten inch thick barricades and let him in. After all, he’s a defenseless man no doubt being pursued by those with the intention of killing him.

“I told you we should have moved to Belize.”

Okay, okay, so something has to happen to make The Purge a problem for the family. I get it. The problem is, why does Charlie even have the goddamn code to the security shield? If Hawke is any kind of an expert in security, as his job would suggest, surely he knows better than to allow his teenage son access to the password? Even more baffling however, is the absence of repercussions. Neither Hawke nor his wife, played by Lena Headey, once reprimand their child for endangering their lives. They don’t even raise their voices, but instead, in the second of The Purge’s errors, leave him to wander the house. Where he further sets the family back by making ANOTHER shitty decision. He’s pegged from the start of the film as a techno whiz with no social skills who’s constantly creeping up on people. Someone please put a bell on that kid! Failing that, lock him in the basement. Or outfit the house with a panic room! Jeez.

Faced with the possibility of an impending attack from a gang of smarmy rich shitbags loitering on their property (again, it’s in the trailer!) the family’s patriarch makes yet another incomprehensible decision.  It infuriates because it perpetuates decades of old horror cliches, as if Scream had never happened. Obvious answers to interesting questions posed by the story reek of simply trying to push forward in order to show us blood, violence and terror.

That’s not to say that The Purge isn’t fun. Because it most certainly keeps you watching throughout its lean running time. There are a handful of clever touches left for the final act. Characters you forget about (because they’re so forgettable) re-appear when you least expect. Hawke transforms into a domestic Rambo: kicking ass; taking names and redeeming himself from earlier smugness. Headey commandeers the final twenty minutes proving how little she had to do in all that came before.

Playing out like an R-rated, feature length after-school special, The Purge wants you to know that no one is safe from the horrors of the world. Even if your bank account has enough zeroes to warrant one of those cartoon-sized cheque books. No-one is untouched by the barbaric nature of man. And if you’ve got a gun in your house? You’re likely to incur more bloodshed than you can imagine. Take that, NRA.

[vsw id=”8THrKTJ7PU8″ source=”youtube” width=”425″ height=”344″ autoplay=”no”]

Featured image courtesy of Blumhouse.
gem seddon freelance blogger freelance film journalist freelance writer

About the author

Gem is a freelance writer with 11 years of experience in entertainment journalism and movie blogging. She's written for outlets including Digital Spy, TechRadar, Vulture, Total Film, GamesRadar+, Certified Forgotten, and more.