What’s worse than dumbing down an intelligent concept for an audience? Ignoring it altogether. This is the crime of The Purge, a horror movie which could have been one of the best films of the year and is instead is one of the most disappointing. The movie’s premise has almost limitless potential but is used simply to set up a generic, bland and stupid home-invasion film. I came out of the theatre feeling defeated and wondering exactly what the filmmakers were thinking.
In The Purge, the United States has reached an all-time low and a newly elected government — the “new founding fathers” — came up with an idea called the Purge, where for 12 hours, during one night of the year, all laws are suspended. Everything that is normally considered a crime — including murder — is now legal. The belief is that everyone can release their frustrations all at once during the Purge. If those considered to put a drain on the system — the homeless, sick and elderly — wind up being the ones killed then that’s just a sacrifice everyone will have to make.
The story takes place in 2022, focusing on a family who provide shelter for a homeless man during the Purge and find themselves under attack for doing it. The entire premise exists so that the filmmakers can make a home-invasion movie where the police can’t be called, because emergency services do not operate during those 12 hours.
What results is a home-invasion movie that takes place in the dark, has a bunch of jump scares and lacks any of the initial intrigue that the film’s premise promised. The father, James (Ethan Hawke), sells security systems to protect families during the Purge — despite supporting the concept on the whole — and the mother, Mary (Lena Heady), has no defining characteristics. Both change personalities frequently throughout the film. The daughter, Zoey (Adelaide Kane), disappears from most of the film for no reason. And the youngest child, the son Charlie (Max Burkholder), makes terrible decision after terrible decision — he makes all the decisions that could potentially doom the family. There’s no continuity or sense of space in the three-room house, which makes following the characters’ movements very difficult throughout the film.
The villain, played by Rhys Wakefield, is a nameless man who stares directly into a security camera for most of his screen time. He is well spoken, tells everyone exactly what is on his mind and is just about the only reason to see the film. However, the villains have no more reason for doing what they do except because they can.
The Purge has a brilliant concept and terrible execution. It could have taken its premise in any direction and instead wound up as a mediocre home-invasion movie. Attempts at social commentary are ignored, and most of the film consists of various “boo!” moments and bad decisions. Don’t make one of the latter by seeing The Purge.