The Purge (2013) Review
Writer: James DeMonaco
Certificate: 15 Running Time: 1hr 25 Mins
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaid Kane, Rhys Wakefield
Producer: Blumhouse Productions
Plot: One night a year. All crime is legal. The wealthy suburban Sandin family have always survived the night without altercation… until now.
Originality. A word seldom lavished upon the remake laden horror genre in recent years. In an era subjugated by the remake, horror film studio Blumhouse productions (creators of Insidious and Sinister) are one of the few ephemeral lights of the industry, consistently pushing boundaries and audiences alike. Despite the underwhelming alien invasion thriller ‘Dark Skies’ (https://hmzfilm.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/dark-skies-2013-review/) earlier this year, there remained an unwavering sense of optimism around The Purge. Written and directed by the gifted James DeMonaco (The Negotiator, Jack), comes a story of daring imagination, a harrowing vision of the future state of society. At the heart of the Purge is certainly a bold, unmistakably novel premise. That being said, as the story unfolds, it iteratively sheds its menace and reverts to safer, well trodden territory. The Purge still remains an enthralling spectacle but you can’t help but feel it could have been so much more.
The core idea behind the story, to DeMonaco’s credit, leaves a lasting impression long after the final credits. The mere thought of how society would react if crime was legalized is a frightening one. Are we a race with such repressed rage that we would lose all sense of morality and commit heinous crimes? Are we in fact governed by fear of the consequences of our actions rather than the sinful act itself? It is a real shame that such fascinating themes are submerged under the weight of the clichéd trespassing sequences, these labour and serve to detach The Purge from the hype which has superseded it.
The film fixates on a single family’s ordeal during the night of the Purge, each member exhibiting contrasting viewpoints on the legitimacy of the law. DeMonaco explores by crafting an effective microcosm of society. Some would certainly champion the practice (the father), simply the means to an end to achieving a prosperous state of low unemployment and minimal crime in which to raise a family. A night to unleash the beast within, permission to cleanse ones soul of the anger and hate which accumulates over time. Others, of course would condemn such recidivist thinking, believing it to only encourage barbaric violence, regardless of the impact on wider society (the son). The embodiment of a clean conscience is played by the frustratingly poor Max Burkholder (Charlie), although a viable characterization, the clumsy performance hinders any meaningful impact.
Whilst Burkholder frustrates during his extended screen time, the superb Rhys Wakefield (stranger at the door) plays the villain with startling horror and is the stand-out performer in The Purge. He serves up an extraordinarily haunting rendition of a maniac, the brainwashed executioner of a merciless regime. Wakefield is plainly not given the time or necessary scenes to propel the film during the dull median of the story. It represents a real missed opportunity. The CCTV imagery of the masked intruders are without question the most evocative and visceral scenes in the film.
When viewing the Purge through a utilitarian lens, the much debated question rises to prominence: do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? If we were to periodically rid society of the lower tier of the pyramid, the decrepit, homeless and unemployed, would we reap rewards at an economic and social level? The Purge clearly isn’t shy (or particularly subtle) at illuminating such questions. Whilst the rich retire to the confines of a secure solitude, the working class would battle to survive and manufacture a plausible livelihood. Is this markedly different to today’s society? Some things will never change.