Review: DeMonaco's 'The Purge' a Dull Waste of Interesting Concept
by Jeremy Kirk
June 7, 2013
Every film begins with an initial concept, a premise designed to grab the audience's attention even before the lights in the theater go down. As far as premises go, The Purge carries with it a bold concept, that the United States has allowed all crime, even murder, to be legal for one night leaving the other 364 days of the year practically crime-free. Unfortunately, writer/director James DeMonaco takes that premise and proceeds to create a dull and uninteresting home invasion movie. With little suspense and absolutely no surprises, The Purge squanders a creative, if somewhat nonsensical, idea by giving us a film that doesn't even need that initial concept. A film about a bulimic called The Purge would have been more interesting.
The home being invaded in the film belongs to the Sandins, a family of four living a wealthy lifestyle due to the father's (Ethan Hawke) successful home security company. As the night of The Purge approaches, 12 hours when all emergency services are completely shut off and violence runs rampant in the streets, the Sandins, like all the wealthy homes, go on lockdown. But when a stranger comes to their front door begging for help, the young son (Max Burkholder) lets his conscience get the better of him, letting the man in and putting the family directly in the sights of the people chasing him. Nothing interesting follows after that.
DeMonaco, working under Blumhouse Productions, a veritable force in modern horror with films like the Paranormal Activity and Insidious franchises under its wing, should have realized a home invasion movie wasn't the way to go here. With all the insanity going on outside the gated walls of this "safe" community, setting a home invasion movie in this world is probably the least interesting idea imaginable.
There are so many other ideas that could have come from this premise. Have the family trapped out that world somehow. Dig into the idea that The Purge stacks the deck completely against the poor and is very likely the United States' way of eliminating the lower class altogether. This idea is touched upon by passing radio show broadcasts we hear in the background, but never even comes close to being realized in the film itself. It's when the group stalking the man shows up at the Sandin's door, creepy masks and all, that The Purge goes from squandered concept to painfully boring.
The director has no sense of geography, no workmanship with the camera to keep the intensity peaked. Every decision the film makes; creepy masks, uninteresting action, and that thriller technique where someone saves someone else at the very last possible second forces the film further down a path of boredom. They're almost as bad as every decision the people in the actual movie make. By the time the family begins fighting back, taking out these creepy, masked Purgers with reckless abandon, you just want the lights in the house and in the theater to come back up.
It's no use getting into the acting on display here, since every character seems one-dimensional at best. Lena Headey as the mother of the family may as well have been named Threatened Mother for all she's allowed to do here, and Hawke, God love him, just can't seem to say no these days. Rhys Wakefield as the leader of the home invaders (His character is given the title Polite Stranger) tries to turn the creep factor up full volume, but that too seems squandered with how little of a threat DeMonaco actually makes him.
A third act "shocker" probably worked better on paper, but that's pretty much what you can say for the whole movie. We're only given enough about every character and The Purge itself to keep the premise alive, but so many questions rear their ugly head. How does The Purge keep crime at an all-time low? It's not as if people commit crimes just because they have an itch to murder someone. There's usually a real-world motive involved. Do drug dealers make as much on this one night as they used to for a whole year? There's no indication that the police force works doubly hard the rest of the year to keep that crime rate low.
These are simple questions that keep The Purge's basic premise at an arm's length from believability. That's bad enough, but when the story that comes from such a rocky concept is as uninteresting as this, it's time to scrap the whole thing from the screenplay level. That or try to come up with something more engaging than a run-of-the-mill, home invasion movie. Even with that, there are ways of throwing in twists and turns that keep a film's suspense level at a maximum. The Purge does none of that. Instead, it rests far too comfortably on the laurels of its initial concept and tries to be somewhat subversive with all the "God bless America" rhetoric it spews out. But, at 85 minutes, at least it goes by quickly.
Jeremy's Rating: 4 out of 10