By Jonathan Kellam
The Purge (2013)
Directed by James DeMonaco
★★ out of ★★★★
Ethan Hawke – James Sandin
Lena Headey – Mary Sandin
In a smart marketing move, Universal Pictures plugged a horror movie into its summer lineup to break up the monotony of things blowing up as is usually seen in summer movies. The Purge takes place nine years in the future and in this short span of time we have adopted not only “New Founding Fathers”, but also an annual event known as Purge Night where all crime, including murder, is legal for 12 hours. Victims are generally the poor who cannot defend themselves, but this year the well-to-do Sandin family, locked in their fortress of a house, is targeted by a group of masked sadists.
Much of the praise for The Purge has been for its concept. Really? It kind of sounds like something out of a scary story one of my siblings or I would have told when we were kids. The concept would have sufficed if the story had taken place much farther in the future and if there was more light shed on the dystopia the United States had apparently become. I thought the film’s greatest strengths were the performances of Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey who play James and Mary Sandin. They’re strong advocates of Purge Night because, well, it’s made them rich, as James is a security system salesman. They feel just a little bit differently about the whole thing by the end of the night.
The flaws in this film were many. The script very badly needed some polishing. Some of the dialogue sounded so unnatural I’m convinced that nobody had actually read the words out loud until shooting began. There was also a serious lack of tension for most of the movie, albeit the finale was a white-knuckler. Also, its become a tradition in horror films for the characters, while maybe intelligent, to make really stupid decisions. These characters are stupid to the point that I fault the screenplay. I also think they could have very easily turned the lackluster ending into something memorable and poetic, but alas, no one asked me.
The Purge perfectly meets my definition of a mediocre film. I am glad, however, to see Hawke and Headey headlining a summer movie. Had not some life been pumped into it by their strong performances, I suspect it might have been rated a full star lower. There are much better movies out there about dystopian futures, there are much better movies about home invasions and there are much better movies starring Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey. My final diagnosis: skip this one.