“Decriminalised murder… good times.”
Much like Cuba Gooding Jr., Training Day alumni Ethan Hawke used to be hot shit about a decade ago… now somehow they’ve both inexplicably found themselves relegated to the land of direct-to-DVD horror/action schlock. We discovered this by accident after stumbling across some of their recent releases on the shelves of our local <generic video store>. We stared at the DVD’s blankly for a few seconds while we tried to convince ourselves that they used to be pretty good back in the day, shrugged, and then moseyed on to the nearest Will Ferrell movie. It’s a mystery how actors of their former stature have sunk to such depths. Christ, Cuba won an Academy Award for that stupid Tom Cruise movie after all… but still, we can’t help but feel sorry for them. Either way, Ethan Hawke’s recent horror movie Sinister wasn’t that bad. Sure, it wasn’t brilliant by any stretch of the imagination but it was interesting enough for us to bother reviewing it – it had a Blair Witch meets 8mm vibe going on. So after reading about the rather delectable premise behind The Purge, we figured that Hawke’s latest might also be worth our time. And it’s not like he’ll be popping-up in Training Day 2 with Denzel Washington’s corpse any time soon.
Set in a future America wracked by crime, the US Government has sanctioned an annual 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity becomes legal – including murder. This annual event is called – you guessed it – ‘The Purge’. When the wealthy Sandin family take in a stranger during The Purge, it sets off a series of events which threaten to tear the family apart. It’s now up to James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), his wife, Mary (Lena Headey), and their children to make it through the night without turning into the monsters from whom they hide.
As we alluded to earlier, it was the premise behind The Purge which initially caught our attention – one day each year in which the average citizen could kill, rape, and pillage to their hearts content and face absolutely no consequences. Sounds intriguing, huh? While it’s unlikely that writer/director James DeMonaco’s idea is a revolutionary one, undoubtedly it’s already been done in another medium (we need to add that disclaimer in case some bespectacled nerd informs us that the same thing happened in issue #42 of The Amazing Sphincter Man), it does put a new spin on the tired ‘bad guys break into a house and terrorise a family’ caper that we’ve all seen done before. Going purely off the trailer and the synopsis, if we had to be so bold and make a comparison, we’d say that it almost reminded us a little of Safe Room meets Funny Games.
Unfortunately, The Purge failed to live up to our expectations. Don’t get us wrong, the movie is a functional thriller/horror in every sense – it’s tense, claustrophobic and more than a little creepy. That wasn’t our problem. The biggest letdown was the treatment of the premise that made The Purge so tantalising. Here’s a tip for filmmakers: if you want to tackle a mildly interesting theme, at least try and flesh it out. The movie starts out strong with a collage of news reports interspersed with violent surveillance footage – it sets up the overall premise well – however that early momentum quickly fell away by the end of the first act. Touching on ideas like The Purge being less about a day where individuals can release their primal frustrations, and more about removing unwanted elements like the homeless, the poor and the sick, The Purge fails to take these ideas further. One of the worst things a filmmaker can do is to dangle a juicy piece of meat in front of the viewer and then simply toss it away. Horror/thrillers don’t have to solely revolve around scares and tension, it is possible to give the viewer a little substance too. We genuinely wanted to know more about The Purge. We wanted to know more about how it affected the members of the family. How it affected the nation. Who were The New Founding Fathers? Sadly, it felt like The Purge passed up the opportunity for some penetrating societal commentary in favour of the typical tropes associated with the genre.
And boy, there are plenty of horror tropes to be found. You have your typical jump scares, cavernous logic holes, and numerous times when you’ll find yourself yelling “WHY DIDN’T YOU PICK UP THAT GUN!!!”. We can forgive most of those, it’s a horror/thriller after all, however we did encounter a couple of stupid aspects that stuck in our proverbial craws. The biggest involved the Sandin’s son… the kid has some unspecified medical condition that requires him to use a heart rate monitor and take special pills to keep it under control. Okay, fair enough. But when this condition is never reference again until his heart rate monitor is put to use toward the end of the movie, well, that’s just sloppy writing. And if anyone can spot sloppy writing, it’s us… we’ve built a movie review site around it.
Aside from a couple of gripes with the writing, the other real letdown was the acting. After seeing Ethan Hawke giving it his all in The Purge, we can see why he’s been relegated to this B-grade wasteland; he was about as two-dimensional as a cardboard cutout of Keanu Reeves. Actually, Lena Headey as the wife wasn’t much better – she seemed to been channeling her fellow leads uninspired performance. Come to think of it, just about every major character suffered from the same lack of charisma. We aren’t sure if this 2022 America was meant to be some Equilibrium-like future where everyone has become apathetic… or it was the result of some lacklustre acting/directing. We’d like to hope it was the former but we still aren’t completely decided. Regardless, it detracted from the final product.
Overall, The Purge is a functional horror/thriller with a great premise. Unfortunately the biggest problem is that the premise is simply glossed-over for the most part. Maybe somebody needs to write some fan fiction to fill in the blanks.
The A.D.D. Version:
The Purge is a functional horror/thriller with a great premise. Unfortunately the biggest problem is that the premise is glossed-over for the most part. Maybe somebody needs to write some fan fiction to fill in the blanks.
- There’s no password on your fancy security software?
- No panic room either?
- That shotgun reminded us of From Dusk Till Dawn for some reason.
- Household insurance must be a bitch some The Purge.
- Just follow that blinking toy car!
See This Film If You Like:
- Safe Room
- Funny Games
- The Strangers
- Battle Royale
- The Hunger Games
The YouSeenThat.Com Popcorn Rating:
An interesting premise that lacked execution.