The opening title sequence for The Purge promises a much larger scope than what eventually hits the screen. We see spy cam shots from across the “new” Nation as chaos erupts; there’s a rash of beatings, gunfights, and much more shots of extreme violence. The conceit is clear, and the visuals promise to deliver one hell of a night of brutality. Instead, The Purge could actually be referring to how writer/director James DeMonaco squeezed such an enormous idea into a single, lackluster location.
This high concept thriller/home invasion slasher takes us to 2022 where the new America, apparently re-molded after an economic meltdown, is built upon the principles of “The Purge.” The idea is that, once a year, for 12 hours, violence and murder are legal. The thought is that this “Purge” allows the Nation to relieve themselves of these natural instincts of violence and aggression. But what the film proposes is that it’s more about population control and ridding the country of people who don’t contribute to society* (i.e. the poor and homeless).
With that we meet the Sandin family, who is now the wealthiest family in town thanks to James Sandin’s (Ethan Hawke) home security business. He protects his wife, son and daughter with the same home security system he exploits to rich families in the neighborhood. Only his technology sucks… and it’s unclear if that’s his or the writer’s fault, although I suspect it’s the latter. This fantasy world looks and feels more like a 2012 Blumhouse movie than a 2022 high concept thriller. The house is as generic and middle-class as they come, not to mention Sandin’s security system doesn’t include in-house cameras or even a panic room.
And while the ideas presented in The Purge are actually pretty damn cool, the illogical and convenient decisions made by all of the characters are maddening (i.e. from James’ decision to lock down the house one minute before the purge to characters walking aimlessly around the house during an invasion), so much so that you could hear constant sighs of frustration from half the audience.
The Purge becomes a lowbrow game of cat and mouse where nearly every single character is “saved” from behind by another character, who ends up being double-double crossed the same way. The only sequence that remains memorable is a gruesome game room battle between James and the invaders rocking shotguns and axes.
Even Rhys Wakefield’s epic Patrick Bateman-like performance is wasted as he never actually interacts with any of the characters; he’s solely used for intimidation through the Sandin’s front door security camera. And outside of Wakefield, all of his henchmen are faceless (because they’re underdeveloped and wearing masks), which makes it impossible to give a shit when any of them die. Because of this, there are no “jump out of your seat and cheer” moments, which makes the experience feel stale and generic.
What’s so interesting about Purge is that it’s the first co-production between genre powers, Blumhouse and Platinum Dunes. Blum is known for their low budget affairs (Dark Skies and Insidious), while Dunes has had some pretty huge horror projects (Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street to name a few). What Purge ends up being is the generic looking home-confined thriller that Blumhouse keeps recycling mixed with the relentless jump-scares of a Platinum Dunes movie.
In the end, The Purge has a plethora of brilliant ideas that are all underdeveloped. It’s as if DeMonaco didn’t know how to express his own frustrations with our society, which end up on screen like a conspiracy theorist spewing thousands of ideas he’s heard without ever researching or understanding them himself. And with that comes an insanely unfocused, diluted and generic thriller that carries zero impact.
** From an economic standpoint the concept is absolutely ridiculous, as in the real world, the rich get richer off the lesser class paying interest on their loans. Therefore, they’d never allow a society where the poor are killed off.