Let’s Review: ‘The Purge’ is Watchable But Doesn’t Quite Live Up to Its Premise

By June 6, 2013

“In 2022, the United States has become ‘a nation reborn,’ with crime and unemployment rates hitting an all-time low.”

In order to keep said crime and unemployment rates low and maintain peace throughout the year, once a year the entire nation is given 12 hours (7pm – 7am) to vent negative emotions built up throughout the year in a government-instituted evening known as “The Purge.”

During this 12-hour period, all criminal activities (murder, rape, robbery, etc) are legal, and outside of a couple of rules (no harm against “Level 10 Government Officials” or using above a “Class 4 Weapon”), no one is exempt. Did I also mention that there’s no emergency services (police, ambulance or hospitals) available during this time period, either?

So what happens when a family member takes in an injured stranger on the run for his life and those chasing the stranger then tell you “It’s him or your entire family”? What do you do then?

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the premise for The Purge – starring Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey.

Hawke and Headey are James and Mary Sandin, your typical upper crust couple with two kids living the idyllic lifestyle in their gated community/giant house with the best alarm and fortification system money can buy. In a typical “keeping up with The Joneses” mentality most rich people seem to suffer from, his neighbors also have the same top-of-the-line home security system (because he sold it to them).

Early on into the 12-hour purge, their son Charlie (“Parenthood” star Max Burkholder) is drawn to the security monitors and sees a lone man covered in blood and desperately calling out for help. Feeling the need to help, Charlie deactivates the system and without a lot of thought as to whether the man himself is a dangerous guy, he gives the man sanctuary.

The neighbors, of course, give up The Sandins to a wandering group of upper crust psychopaths (all wearing masks that look like leftovers from 2007’s The Strangers) who claim the stranger is “their purge”; telling James Sandin that not only did their neighbors and so-called friends give them up but that if they don’t give them the wounded man to let them finish their purging, they will come in and not only take their bounty but kill the entire family as well.

The opening credits set the mood with a montage of security camera footage from across the U.S. showing people involved in purging and is what Alex from A Clockwork Orange would call “a bit of the old ultra-violence,” with people shooting each other, beatdowns, robberies, dead bodies and the like.

While there are some elements of this film that I really did enjoy (like James and Mary nonchalantly doing a weapons check while discussing family issues), the film unfortunately had some areas that felt like they weren’t sure how to end the film without being too contrived and it falls apart…which is really sad because it’s a GREAT premise and was really liking what I was seeing right up until the last 15 minutes.

The Purge has been terribly mis-marketed as a “horror” film and I’m here to tell you it is anything BUT. The Purge DEFINITELY lands in the “psychological thriller” category because in the midst of all the violence, there’s a question of morals and ethics in the form of “Do we sacrifice one to save all?” and “What would YOU do?” situations.

Rhys Wakefield as “Polite Stranger”

Headey and Hawke turn in some great performances, as does young Max Burkholder (whom most know as Max Braverman, the child with Asperger’s in the NBC hit series “Parenthood”), but it’s Rhys Wakefield (Sanctum) as the nameless leader of the psychos (and known only as “Polite Stranger”) who delivers an intense and creepy performance that also unfortunately falls apart through no fault of his own.

I was also slightly insulted by how “United Colours of Benetton for psychos” this movie seemed and if you decide to see the film, you’ll know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.

Lena Headey and Ethan Hawke

Should you go see this film? Sure. It’s a great popcorn film/date night movie and to be fair, it DOES flesh out what would happen if EVERYONE had the chance to fulfill that “one freebie kill” we’ve all got in our heads and how would we feel if we learned it could that freebie could very well be us. If you’re into shooter games, think of it as a “Free For All” deathmatch realized…with about the same amount of firepower and weaponry.

In all honesty, I really did dig the movie and if the same amount of attention were paid to the last half as they did to the FIRST half, The Purge would get a higher recommend from me.

The Frame Rate: 7 out of 10

The Purge opens nationwide June 7th.

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Cricket Lee
Star Wars fangirl. Named Best Kisser by Time Magazine. CEO/Host: Girl Gamer; host of Gecken: GeekNation; writer: Dread Central. You'll have a crush on me soon. Vote Quimby. Twitter: @crixlee http://www.imdb.me/crixlee