‘The Purge’ – Call it ‘After Midnight’ whereby Ethan Hawkes leaves Julie Deply and Europe to return to the U.S. to sell home security systems. And be in a really bad movie. Written and directed by James DeMonaco, ‘The Purge’ works better as an 85 minute home insurance advertisement than as a commentary of the animalistic urges of man. For those who haven’t seen the trailer, the setup is this: It’s the year 2022 and things are looking good – unemployment is at 1% and the crime rate is comparably low. These optimal economic conditions are well maintained because the government has instituted an annual 12-hour period called “The Purge” during which all criminal activity becomes legal. The Purge is designed as an act of catharsis for the American people, allowing them to vent all negative emotions however they desire consequence-free.
Do I believe such a solution would work effectively in the real world? No, but that doesn’t matter. I do think that the setup of this picture is promising enough to explore some very dark and serious issues. After all, this model assumes that crime is cathartic, but is it really? How exactly does someone transform into a monster during this 12 hour period? Are they able to revert back to their prior self without any feelings of remorse? Such questions aren’t explored – this is because the movie simply devolves into a standard home-invasion picture and completely forgets about its own premise.
Here is what ‘The Purge’ is really about (rather than what it pretends to be about): James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) has made a fine living selling home security systems. While he’s out on the road trying to surpass his sales quotas, his wife Mary (Lena Headey) struggles with her defiant teenager daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and young tech-obsessed son Charlie (Max Burkholder). You see, Charlie is just a kid – the concept of “The Purge” is just too advanced for his feeble mind; proof of this is demonstrated when he lets a panicky and bloodied stranger into their home. What complicates matters further is a group of Purge participants and their leader (Rhys Wakefield) show up at James’ front door demanding that the stranger be released back to them (the stranger is referred to as a “homeless filthy swine”). If James doesn’t comply, the gang will breach the property’s security, enter and kill everyone in the house.
Mr.DeMonaco’s is very fluent in cliché-speak – this is not a close call, this is a very bad screenplay. After the teenager daughter witnesses a horrific act of violence (a situation in which she was rescued from), she responds to her protector with “Things will never be the same ever again.” When James finally makes a decision on how to deal with the unexpected developments that have taken place, he says “This is our home!” What did the injured stranger even do? There are restrictions in terms of the class of weaponry that can be used for “The Purge” – but who enforces this law? Why would Ethan Hawke’s character (who specializes in security) leave his second floor windows unlocked? When a character is forcefully bound to a chair, why would anyone leave a knife on the floor just meters away from him – do they want him to escape? And worst of all, this is a very hypocritical movie asking viewers to take sheer pleasure in the brutal deaths of these home invaders until it concludes with a “Violence is not the answer” message. Mr.DeMonaco penned the screenplay for the remake of ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ (also with Ethan Hawke) – I didn’t like that movie, but I doubt that script was worse than this.
Furthermore, there is absolutely no characterization – everyone is a caricature. A better picture would have given us a little more understanding as to Charlie’s open-handed motivations. As written, however, he comes off as moron who can’t let go of his pacifist mentality – I’m sorry if that is mean but he insists on helping this stranger (who has a knife in his hand and will use it against any of the boy’s family members if he needs to). The Purge participants outside James’ door are a bunch of killer rich kids who look like they belong to a Delta Sigma Pi fraternity. They utter the sort of the pseudo poetic banalities that would force a high school English teacher to assign a failing grade at their attempts at artistic expression and send them off to the psychiatric ward for evaluation. The “gang leader” doesn’t even have a name – according to IMDB, he is credited as “Polite Stranger”.
To add insult to injury, ‘The Purge’ isn’t even well made. With a budget of $3million, it looks $2.9million cheaper than it should. With its dimly lit settings and rapid camera movements, it’s hard to see what is actually transpiring – this is particularly true in its moments of action which are so poorly edited, it’s next to impossible to derive any detail. A tripod shouldn’t be outside of the scope of a $3million production.
The best thing that can be said about ‘The Purge’ is that it is mercifully short at 85 minutes (though it does feel twice as long). It was the #1 film at the box office last weekend, because of an effective marketing campaign which sold viewers on the setup of the picture. But, this is an essentially a second remake of ‘Straw Dogs’ with a socioeconomic hook that dismembers itself after the opening credits. Here’s hoping this weekend’s ‘Man of Steel’ and ‘This Is The End’ have much more to offer – I’m certain they will. QED.