Saturday 19 December 2020

Movie Review: The Purge (2013)

A home invasion horror movie, The Purge proposes a warped evolution of societal violence, but the execution quickly reverts to traditional defend-the-fort cliches. 

The United States of 2022 is under the political leadership of the "New Founding Fathers". Crime and unemployment are at an all-time low, but once a year all crimes are legal for a 12 hour period called "the purge". The time-limited release of aggression is credited with eliminating lawlessness and enabling economic prosperity.

James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is a successful security systems executive married to Mary (Lena Headey) with two kids, surly teenager Zoey and the younger Charlie. The Sandins live in a good neighbourhood and plan to wait out this year's purge behind a sturdy security system including shields and cameras. 

But the night goes awry when first Zoey's boyfriend Henry secretly hides in the Sandin house, then Charlie provides refuge to a Black stranger (Edwin Hodge) being hunted by a blood-thirsty mob of privileged youth. James and Mary have difficult decisions to make and are forced to fight for their lives.

Director and writer James DeMonaco conceptualizes a contentious and dystopian solution to a society overrun by crime: have at it, but for just one night each year. The rationalization is grounded in providing an outlet for natural human belligerence, with the ends justifying the means: the United States is thriving with near zero rates of unemployment and crime.

But as the Sandins discover during the course of one harrowing night, the purge is also a sanctioned culling of the less privileged in society. The homeless, defenceless and those deemed undesirable make for easy killings. And while James and Mary can support the theory of the purge, and indeed profit from it, the dynamics are different when they - and their kids - are face to face with an intended victim in the form of the Black stranger seeking shelter. A close-up of the perpetrators as snotty nosed kids hiding behind smiley masks and partying through the kill adds a layer of disgust.

But the thoughtfully insane premise only takes The Purge so far. Even at the short length of 85 minutes, DeMonaco spends too much tiresome time in well-worn flashlight-through-the-darkness, what's behind-the-corner territory, and then bloody close-quarters combat as James and Mary do their best to fend off the invaders. Every minor plot milestone is telegraphed in advance and arrives with the soggy smell of predictability.

Ethan Hawke never needs to shift away from a singular expression, yielding the most memorable role to a pasty-faced Rhys Wakefield as the leader of the rampaging/carousing mob. The Purge posits an unnerving near-future, but retreats to the hide-and-seek games of the past. 

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