Review: The Purge

2013/06/07 15:36:49 +00:00 | Monte Yazzie

The Purge delivers an intriguing and provoking synopsis. For 12 hours all crime in America, including murder, is legal. It’s a loaded concept that could be explored from numerous angles, with social commentary lending heftily as a major thematic vehicle. Though initial imagery introduces a film ripe with potential, the outcome is an unfocused thriller that undermines sensible logic and utilizes repetitive horror clichés in an attempt to promote scares.

The Sandin Family lives in an upper crust community. James (Ethan Hawke), the head of the household, is a home security salesman having provided the bulk of the neighborhood with their fortifying systems. The annual Purge is mere hours from starting. The Sandin family converse about their day around the dinner table, amidst angst from teenage Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and moral questioning from young Charlie (Max Burkholder). James and his wife Mary (Lena Headey) try confusingly to explain the positive implications of the 12-hour indulgence. As horns siren the beginning of the event, young Charlie is confounded and intrigued by the video monitoring system watching his sanctuary, until a man calls for help in the empty neighborhood. Charlie opens his home to the pleading man, thus allowing the voracious group of masked hunters opportunity to surround the Sandin house.

There are moments when The Purge begins to explore absorbing territory concerning social structure, but it’s nonetheless short lived and never fully realized. Society, in this future, has found necessity in allowing chaos to reign for a short time, though the ethical and sociopolitical implications of this kind of extravagance are only hinted at and never taken into full account. The concerning question of the nation’s leaders allowing its people to partake in this illogical behavior are played out as merely background fodder on radio and television news reports. Turning off the lights for 12 hours, once a year, would yield terror beyond comprehension. And, once the lights come back on, what’s left of a society that must coexist with neighbors, friends, and relatives that came knocking on your door on purge night? Paranoia alone would consume. Understandably, the viewer is meant to take leaps of logic for 85 minutes while the narrative unfolds into a contrived game of murderous cat and mouse, jump scares, and inexplicable character decisions. Though the tension is well maintained during these violent sequences, a diverging narrative leading towards a twist ending undermines the apprehensive atmosphere.

Ethan Hawke seems to have played this character before, though he is good at conveying the sentiments of his somewhat heroic role. Lena Headey, also playing a familiar role, gives her underutilized character life. The best performance comes from the grinning menace of the roving pact ringleader, played by Rhys Wakefield. His polite, demanding presence offers the miniscule hint of horror in a film that is scarce on scares.

The Purge establishes an interesting premise with its foreboding introduction, though the remaining outcome boils the scarier implications of a world in chaos down to a simplistic home invasion thriller. When the French film Them and America’s The Strangers already provide examples of how the unexplained threat of forces outside change the dynamic of those protected inside, The Purge missed the opportunity to explore more than the usual.

Film Score: 2/5