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The Purge Review

by Chris Wharfe

Director: James DeMonaco.

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield.

Running Time: 85 minutes.

Certificate: 15.

Synopsis: America, 2022. For one night a year, all crime is legal. When teenager Charlie Sandin (Max Burkholder) lets a fleeing stranger into his home, his family comes under siege from a group of masked men and women with murderous intentions.

Promising a mix of social satire and moral middle grounds, THE PURGE starts strongly with an enticing build-up, but ultimately surrenders to cheap narrative convention and weak character development. The premise is simple but intriguing; one night a year, all crime is legal. The consequences of this are a virtually crime-free United States for the other 363/4 days of the year, with unemployment at an all-time low. While on paper this might sound at first slightly feasible, it quickly comes under scrutiny – surely the main reason people don’t go on killing sprees isn’t because it’s illegal, but because they have some kind of moral integrity or otherwise don’t want to shoot everyone in sight?

Luckily, writer-director James DeMonaco sidesteps this issue by insinuating the real reason behind the annual ‘purge’ relates to class differences, hence the economic stability. This is where the film’s satire is most evident – the affluent 1%, able to afford luxury security systems, legalising and justifying the annihilation of the 99%, alone on the streets and unable to defend themselves.

As the film blunders brashly into its final act, the satirical edge is lost in a haze of predictable narrative decisions and underdeveloped characters. The focus lies on family man James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) and his wife and children, part of the moneyed classes who live a life of luxury behind one of the (supposedly) strongest security systems on the market. But things go awry when youngest child Charlie lets a fleeing stranger in, causing his pursuers to target the Sandin family, too.

The middle act is perhaps where THE PURGE threatens most to win us over, with the introduction of Rhys Wakefield as the unnamed youngster attempting to cleanse his soul by murdering the homeless. Wakefield exhibits the kind of villainous flair that brings to mind Heath Ledger’s performance in THE DARK KNIGHT, though, like almost every interesting character in THE PURGE, is ultimately wasted with too few lines and interactions with the Sandins.

Matters turn particularly awry when the masked murderers attempt to penetrate the Sandin home to retrieve their prey. DeMonaco attempts to further the tension he so well injected into his script in the first two thirds of the film, but resorts to cheap jump-scares and last-minute escapes. The climax attempts to defy the predictability of the rest of the film, but in doing so sacrifices believability and sensibility, with some truly daft character arc resolutions.

With a utopian/dystopian thriller along the lines of THE PURGE, it’s difficult to know whether to approach the film seriously or with a satirical, comedic, self-awareness. James DeMonaco does neither, instead treading a fine line between the two, which might have worked with a stronger script. As is, THE PURGE promises much, but delivers little, with its social and moral messages ultimately confused in the process.

2 Stars

THE PURGE was released in the UK on May 31st.

The Purge review by Chris Wharfe, June 2013.

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[…] thriller set for US cinemas on the 7th June. You can read our very own Chris’ review HERE, (although I feel he’s been very harsh). If and when you see it, why not let us know if […]

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Blumhouse & Platinum Dunes Plan To Commence ‘The Purge’… Again! « MindCorp | Newsfeed Jan 30, 2014 - 8:04 pm

[…] thriller set for US cinemas on the 7th June. You can read our very own Chris’ review HERE, (although I feel he’s been very harsh). If and when you see it, why not let us know if […]

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