REVIEW: The Purge
It’s no secret that American horror movies are a bit of a laughing stock, comprised mostly of haunted houses, remakes, torture porn, and jump scares. We as an audience have not received many new or fresh ideas since The Blair Witch Project and it seems like to get a truly classic horror experience one must either revisit older movies, or delve into East-Asian cinema. However, the much publicized The Purge seemed to be a small light in sea of mediocrity, with a clever, and thought provoking concept. The film’s events take place in the future where crime and unemployment have been reduced to almost nothing, and possibly the reason for this is because once a year there is a twelve hour time frame where all crime, including murder, is legal. This gives everyone in America the chance to vent their anger and sheltered desires and then return to their normal lives the following morning. This concept alone lured me, and many others, into theaters. But as I watched the movie expecting an interesting horror flick and hoping for something that would give me faith in the genre as a whole. For the most part, I was wrong on both counts.
This is not to say The Purge was a bad movie. There are elements that truly work, and the concept, as I mentioned above, was good enough to put me in the seat. However the problem with this movie is the same problem M. Night Shyhamalan has with many of his movies: all the effort is put into a twist or cool concept. The Purge has a great concept, but as I watched I quickly got a sense that a bunch of writers sat in a room, came up with the idea, and then thought, “Um…now what?”
After the concept is set up with an eerie montage of Purge activities on the screen with classical music in the background, the movie delves into the family we will watch for the rest of the film. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is a wealthy father who sells expensive security systems for people to prepare for the Purge. He believes strongly in The Purge mostly due to the fact that he and his family got gotten rich off it. His wife Mary (Lena Headey) appears to disagree with The Purge but mostly keeps her mouth shut. His son Charlie (Max Burkholder) is a weird kid who spends his leisure time sitting in a room and controlling a remote control car with a toy baby head on it. And his daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) mostly just cries and runs around in a schoolgirl outfit. The crisis of the film begins when, during the purge, the family hunkers down as usual, yet Charlie lets in a homeless man (Edwin Hodge). A group of masked psychopaths ask the Sandins to let the homeless man outside so they can murder him, and after a tense scene where James and Mary subdue and torture the homeless man, they decide to give him sanctuary and for the rest of the film they fend off the attacking psychopaths.
This plot could provide some ultra tense moments, yet rarely does anything really happen. The psychopaths tell the family to find and deliver the homeless man yet they turn off the power. This is obviously done so heighten the creepiness factor as we watch people wander through a dark house, but I couldn’t stop thinking “Wait, if they want the family to find someone, why on earth would they cut off their light?” There are simply too many scenes of people wandering aimlessly with flashlights and there is not enough payoff. Charlie, with his huge sunglasses, pale skin, and long black hair, looks so much like Scrillex it was a constant distraction. Most of the acting is pretty wooden, and even the competent Ethan Hawke is losing his touch here. It’s not a convincing movie. We are never fearing for people’s lives, and thus comes the main problem of the film. It’s not scary.
For a horror film, that’s a gargantuan problem. Horror films have a tendency to feature bad actors so I’ll forgive The Purge for that. But there is nothing else to offer. The direction is lazy and relies too much of flashlights in the dark. The music is practically absent. The characters are uninteresting and even unlikeable, the villains are cliché, the writing is weak and full of plot holes, and the climax is slow and unsatisfying.
Speaking of clichés, this film had them all: clown masks, girl hiding under the bed, etcetera. For a short film, The Purge repeats itself too. Charlie runs off into another room about five times while the others call out for him, and too many times is someone about to be killed when someone else jumps in at the last second to save them. After the third time these things happen, you start waiting for them to happen again and the entire thrill is gone. And there are simply not enough thrills.
As much as I’m bashing this film, there are two bright spots. One, the one actor I liked was Edwin Hodge who played the homeless man. He barely gets any lines yet he delivers each one convincingly and his character’s strength and capability make him the real hero here. And second, there is one fight scene where James has to dispense several attackers. It’s ultra tense and features shotguns, axes, and pool balls being used as weapons. I couldn’t breathe the entire scene and when it ended all I wanted was for the rest of the movie to be a string of scenes like that.
Overall, The Purge lacked the ride. It was a smart idea, but the plot and characters were seemingly straight from a fifth grader’s doodle pad and it ended up being a forgettable movie. It tries to be a more psychological horror film and, for the most part, failed because in execution it just isn’t smart enough. What The Purge should have done was use the cool concept and make it more of a heart-pumping slasher flick, and showcase the filmmaker’s ability to direct action, if not acting. Gone are the days when a film can coast by on concept alone. Either give us a smart movie to match the concept, or give us thrills and chills so we jump in our seats. When we receive neither, there will be a long line of people clamoring for their money back.
There is a sequel in the works and I’m optimistic the follow-up will make the right steps next time, but all in all, I’d save my money for the second installment of The Purge.