The year is 2022. Crime rates are at an all-time low, and poverty is virtually non-existent. The reason for this harmonious existence is The Purge; the one night a year that all bets are off. All emergency response teams are shut down. The police can’t help you. The hospital won’t save you. You can do whatever you want without punishment. Do you join in the purge? Or barricade the doors, and hide until dawn?
The Purge leads with the promise of blood laced with intellect. An interesting, if heavy handed, concept centered on American corruption, it seems to offer a stimulating debate on our current state of affairs. Instead, it spends the duration afraid of its own shadow. The point is lost in a muddled discussion of morality while the more ruthless concept of kill or be killed sits alone in the corner. It feigns depth and subversiveness, offering instead a bland and moderately annoying home invasion flick.
The premise is solid, and proposes an interesting dystopian future where Darwinian theory is executed once a year; the reason poverty and unemployment rates are so low is because the poor and unemployed are being slaughtered annually. Sadly, James DeMonaco (Assault on Precinct 13) seems oblivious to this juicy plot device. This information is presented as background noise, the chattering of a television to illustrate a chaotic society. The concept dies there.
James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) frequently spouts clichés intended to comfort his family, and winds up obscuring his own motivation. It’s unclear if he’s keener to defend his children, or his pride due to his masterful security system being overridden.
Mary Sandin (Lena Headey) proves to be a great disappointment. Capable of portraying a Spartan Queen, here she is reduced to little more than a waifish, simpering housewife. Incapable of saving herself, let alone protecting her family, she maintains a frustrating level of helplessness from start to finish. At least in this way there’s some character continuity; nubile daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) is just as helpless and pointless as her mother.
Little Charlie Sandin (Max Burkholder) is as poorly constructed as his parents. A tech geek, his skills are reduced to a quirky character trait. He’s also given an unnaturally pious moral compass for his age, and far too much responsibility – what parent in their right mind gives the password to their fortress-like security system to a 12-year-old?
Charlie’s naïve kindness is what leads to his family’s imminent danger. Catching a glimpse of a homeless man running for his life, the little tyke decides to disarm the security system in order to save him. Then come the yuppies with guns – a group of Ivy League-looking, right-wing 20-somethings armed to the teeth. This man was their target, and they want him back.
The bad guys are as poorly constructed as the family in peril. Given an air of menace reminiscent of Adam West-era Batman villains, it’s hard to consider them a serious threat. The fact that they’re easier to pick off than ants on a hot day does nothing to help their image. The addition of another enemy in the third act only confuses things, emphasizing underdeveloped plot points and weakening an already frail plot rife with holes.
One of the film’s greatest detriments after the shoddy plot execution is its pacing. Running a mere 85 minutes in length, the film drags its feet for far too long, and never seems to get to any of the viable points waiting in the wings. Short films can pack a punch, if they’re economical about their use of time. Unfortunately The Purge wastes its time, and ours.