In The Purge, society has come to rely on one night of the year when all crime goes unpunished, leaving the streets free from any type of control. The annual night brings with it uncontrolled violence, but also a lower crime rate for the rest of the year and, from what we can tell from the seemingly relieved residents of the suburban town where the movie takes place, an opportunity for polite society to give in to its seething animalistic tendencies that bubble up just below the surface all year round. Ethan Hawke plays James Sandin, a resident of said suburban area as well as the one responsible for selling the security systems to his neighbors at a high premium. He is the head of an upper crust family and the purge is like his Christmas, everyone making sure that they have the state of the art home protective services that he sells. On the night of the purge, with his family barricaded in their home safe and sound, something goes awry as his young son, Charlie, allows a lone man running in the streets and begging for help, solace in their home. Mayhem ensues as those chasing this guy set their targets on the Sandin residence, threatening, “give us the man or we’re going to kill your whole family.”
With The Purge, writer/director James DeMonaco attempts to tell a Swiftian morality parable. How does society act when the restraints of responsibility and decorum are removed? In addition to this, he also questions the type of monetary stratification in society that leads to the privileged and the poor going head to head in an all out class war. With all of these high reaching societal commentaries in the movie, it ends up being jumbled in its execution. Too many agendas, not enough storytelling. The characters are poorly written, there is no explanation of their motives, and the rules seem to be set in terms of what happens every year at this time. As the movie gets to the part where the house is sieged by what we assume to be wealthy and bright-faced insurgents, the playful manner in which they kill and attack comes off as silly instead of menacing, turning this pivotal scene into a pornography of frustration instead of an effective action scene. Further, the lack of likable characters in the movie makes it difficult to root for anyone, leaving the death toll insignificant and the story even flatter.
At its core, The Purge is a science fiction movie. The world in which it takes place does not exist and the question is asked, “are we headed here?” Unfortunately, the movie does less than invite the audience to look at themselves and ask this question. Instead, it leaves the viewer asking, “if every year, people are out to kill everyone for twelve hours, why would you install a costly security system that can be disabled by cutting one electrical cord?”
The Purge opens today in Philly area theaters.