Many of the reviews I saw regarding James DeMonaco’s The Purge gave the film so-so ratings, however, a friend and I still made the last minute decision to go see it. My opinion on the film, which serves as a social commentary, lies somewhere in the I’m-not-quite-sure range.
The Purge is set in the year 2022 in an America with less than 1% unemployment and very low crime rates. All of this success is due to a yearly “purge night” in which all crime is legal for twelve hours. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is responsible for equipping the grandiose abodes of all of his pretentious neighbors with ironclad security systems specifically for the purge night every year. Oh, and every year, these citizens place blue flowers in front of their houses in support of the crime and slayings. After the commencement of the purge, a bloodied homeless man runs screaming through the neighborhood where Sandin lives with his wife Mary (Lena Headey) and two kids. The family’s 14 year-old son Charlie, played by Max Burkholder, changes the fate of the evening for the family when he momentarily un-arms the system to offer the homeless man sanctuary from his pursuers. This is where things heat up. The group of college-aged kids pursuing this unfortunate soul shows up at the Sandin’s doorstep demanding their victim or else the family will become their new target.
The big question in this movie is morality versus the common good. Should the life of one person be offered up to save multiple others? Are the lives of the under-privileged a worthy sacrifice to protect the masses? Are some more equal than others?
In the film, the wealthy and well-to-do are able to afford security systems and protect themselves while the lower class and poverty stricken Americans are typically the targets of purge participators (referred to as “hunters”) looking to “cleanse their hatred.” It is openly stated early on in the movie that the reason that America is thriving is due to the cleansing of the moochers of society. Another point to note is the amount of wealthy Americans doing the purging. While holed up in their houses for the night, these people sit around and watch live feeds of purge crimes across the country. Brutal images that rival attack scenes from movies like A Clockwork Orange flash across their screens as all of America tunes in for entertainment; some families even throw purge parties.
The reason I can’t give you a definite answer on whether this is a good movie or not lies in the execution. For every well-executed scene there is an equally terribly executed or cliché scene soon to follow. Every time you start to like the film, two seconds later you question why you ever bought a ticket. At times you wonder if you somehow ended up in a screening of The Strangers. DeMonaco relies heavily on cheap scares, especially startling the audience, and heavily choreographed fight scenes. At times the plot moves so slow that you’ll need an IV drip of caffeine to keep your focus, but the surveillance footage of the group of hunters is so disturbing that it makes you want to give the film another chance.
This film could have been better served as a B-level film with fewer expectations to live up to. Just when it starts to move in a good direction, it quickly turns in a clear attempt to appeal to the masses. I would, however, go see this film again, so it’s not a terrible movie, despite its downfalls. You will walk away from this movie slightly disturbed and a little more pensive about the world we live in.