Director: James DeMonaco
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield
Plot: Once a year, America legalises crime for an entire night. The wealthy Sandin family take shelter in their home, but is it safe enough?
America 2022, a nation reborn. Unemployment and crime is at an all-time low, thanks to a new initiative called the Purge. Once a year, there is a 12 hour period where crime is legalised, even murder, allowing everyone to ‘purge’ their inner beast. James Sandin, played by Ethan Hawke, installs his home with the latest home security, confident he can keep his family safe. However, when his son’s conscience gets the better of him, a homeless man, being hunted for sport, is allowed into their home, attracting the wraith of a very sinister group of people.
The Purge finds itself a winning premise. There is something very fresh about the plot. Without ever seeming like it is trying too hard, DeMonaco’s script is dripping with political debates and satire. He introduces a world redefined beautifully. Even the protagonists are in favour of the Purge; they are merely trying to survive it, not stop it. Only James Sandin’s son seems unconvinced at the concept of the Purge and he is treated like a kid, too young to understand. A neat microcosm for how politicians probably treat us. It is moments like this that suggest that DeMonaco knows what he is doing with this film. Sadly, there are many more moments that imply the contrary.
Hardcore horror fans will be disappointed. This movie has been advertised as a horror, along the lines of ‘The Strangers’, but the horror elements are very tame. There are a few good scares, but for the most part, DeMonaco gives his villains masks and hopes it is enough to make them do weird things. If the trailer didn’t scare you, then you won’t be scared by this film. Even if it did, you might feel underwhelmed. Personally, there are other aspects of the film that make up for this lack of horror. It plays out more like a clever thriller, where you are unsure who to trust and who is trying to kill who. There is even some late-act action. I felt that this film would have done better if it wasn’t constantly making itself out to be a scary film. Truthfully, if it tried less, it would have been accidentally creepy. The opening credits show us CCTV images of people heartlessly shooting each other in the streets, played against some sweet, gentle music. It is chilling and sets the bar too high for the rest of the film to reach.
It also gets a bit predictable near the end. I don’t want to give away what happens, but you will be able to tell where the movie is going, long before it does. This is another thing that hinders the fear factor of this movie. To put it simply, when the family get into a sticky situation, you can always tell how they are going to get out of it. There is one twist that will send some heads reeling, but in all honesty, I wish the movie didn’t go there. The twist is implied several times in the introduction of the movie, but it was so much more powerful as a suggested storyline, rather than the movie physically acting it out. It also kind of feels like the movie isn’t sure where to go anymore, so it just shakes some stuff up a little.
The acting is kind of a mixed bag. Ethan Hawke probably gives the strongest performance here, even if his character is little more than re-hashed version of the guy he played in Sinister. He is a guy that comes across as selfish, looking out for his own family and little else, but Hawke makes you emphasise with the character. Something I did like from DeMonaco’s direction is that he subtly asked the audience what they would do in Sanders’s shoes. Lena Headey is also strong here, although the script loses touch with her character in the final few scenes. Most of the other performances feel slightly over-the-top. I will let Rhys Wakefield off the hook for this, because his villain is one of the most memorable features in the film, but Arija Bareikis over-acts her creepy neighbour role. She makes the movie feel more like a rushed B-Movie than something you would see at the cinema.
I did appreciate the fact that by the end of the movie nothing is resolved. The end credits come up and we are treated to a news report, covering the annual Purge, letting the audience know that for the most part, it was a success. There is something sinister about the fact that everyone will have to go over this again next year. However, this also makes me feel that this movie will become subject to several terrible sequels, each one losing touch with the original idea behind this unique blend of political satire and horror thriller.
Final verdict: Great concept, poor delivery. Solid, until the final act, where DeMonaco loses touch with his script.