Is there anything left to mine from the home invasion thriller? Watching The Purge is enough to prove that there isn’t. Despite an intriguing premise, rife with possibilities for satire and thought, the script by James DeManco throws all that out the window in favor of a pedantic (and highly racist) home invasion film about the dangers of the 1%. The established actors do have fun with the weak premise, but all I wanted to do was purge the image of this film out of my head.
In the year 2022, America is a place with virtually no unemployment and a flourishing economy. Out of this prosperity comes the Annual Purge - the one night a year where every crime is legal, including murder. The affluent Sandin family has plans to lock themselves in their house, but when a homeless man ends up in their house, the Sandin’s will have to fight against a group of troublemakers demanding the man’s blood.
There’s a premise here that could have been fascinating in a serious take on dystopian society. In a world where people are either affluent or incredibly poor (weird considering the opening text scroll that says unemployment is gone and the economy is flourishing…so where did all these homeless people come from?), the ability to do whatever in one night could open the door for all manner of intellectual questions. If all crime is legal, why aren’t banks or shops robbed en masse? Homeless people could easily become wealthy by simply stealing everything. Instead, the movie wants to become a conventional “horror” film by saying that one night a year everyone’s latent homicidal instincts come out. You can see moments where the script is simply unable, or unwilling, to dwell on the more intriguing ethical questions within the premise. In a world where everything is legal, and the movie is R-rated, gun violence is the only way to establish this city. I was actually surprised that the violence wasn’t worse, or that rape wasn’t mentioned; I credit the script for not going down those routes, but the exclusivity on guns makes all the killings rote and boring. Not to mention, all the kills are predictable as the movie is highly reliant on people being killed by others hiding out-of-frame. By the fourth time this happened, I was left to count the minutes till this was over.
On top of that, director/screenwriter James DeMonaco (who wrote the remake of Assault on Precinct 13...o which this comes off as a futuristic sequel) creates a fairly racist depiction of America. The entire premise of the movie hinges on one African-American homeless man being saved by a white family. The group of Stranger rip-offs, all white affluent murderers only speaks of the man as a “pig” or “filth,” while the Sandins are prepared to kill this homeless man and throw him out to be tortured. By story’s end, the man goes into the night…still homeless…and used only as a chip to be pushed around for the convenience of the plot. In essence, The Purge is about the dangers of being affluent, and nothing more.
The actors all make attempts to hold the material together. Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey are the two big names in the cast, and this is nothing they haven’t done in other films of the genre. Hawke is the selfish father and Headey the screaming wife, neither of which are compelling characters. The couple’s children, played by Max Burkeholder and Adelaide Kane, are the techy son and slutty schoolgirl respectively. The only one who doesn’t seem to care is Rhys Wakefield as the head of the preppy mob. He’s perfect at chewing the scenery and using big words to convey how smart he is. Unfortunately, he’s quickly dispatched leaving the movie with no central villain worth caring about for the remainder of the movie.
The entire premise of The Purge could be believable, but the script is written so hastily that far too many questions are raised. For a movie surrounding a wealthy security system designer you quickly realize the script is as shoddy as the Hawke character’s security system: easily ripped apart by a truck, and never covering the back end.