The Purge has a pretty interesting central concept going for it. The idea is that the USA has commissioned “The Purge” a 12-hour period of time once a year where crime and murder are completely legal and the cops will turn a blind eye. The idea is that this allows people to unleash all of the anger and rage they’re keeping bottled up inside of them. As a result of the purge, crime and unemployment are down to like 1% or something ridiculous. It’s an idea that has a lot of potential for stories to tell.
It’s too bad they decided to tell one of the least interesting stories they probably could.
The movie stars Ethan Hawke, so you know things could be worse since the movie could not star Ethan Hawke, and that’s no good. Hawke is a supporter of the purge, and has actually gotten rich off it by selling security systems to the rest of the neighborhood. His wife is played by Lena Headey, and it’s interesting to see her in a role where she’s not playing an absolutely terrible person. They also have a son and a daughter. The son is the one person who vocally declares that the whole idea of the purge is kind of fucked up, but The Hawke ain’t having it.
During the purge, the son sees a stranger yelling for help outside and he disables the security system and lets him into the house. Not long after, a group of people wearing “creepy” masks show up and say they want to kill said stranger and if the family doesn’t hand him over, they’ll break in and kill everyone. The rest of the story I will choose not to give away here.
So there you have it. You have this core idea with a lot of potential, and you use it to tell a basic home invasion story. Not even a unique one, it’s actually very standard. They basically just did The Strangers again, complete with creepy masked person standing behind oblivious other person shots. Also, this group is far too aware of the fact that they’re all wearing creepy masks. There’s a scene where it shows them on a security camera outside the house, doing all sorts of “scary” things like pretending to kiss with the masks, skipping around while holding machetes, swinging on a swing, and so on. It’s a little unsettling sure, but the effect was ruined for me when I realized that within the fiction of the movie, there is absolutely no reason for them to be doing that other than the hope that the family is looking at the security monitors and are creeped out by what they’re seeing. They must have been out there discussing “ok what else can we do while wearing these masks that might freak them out?” It makes it seem like they’re trying too hard and it made the whole thing goofy.
I was surprised by how little tension and suspense there was in the movie. The murderous group doesn’t get inside the house (that’s not really a spoiler since there’s no movie if they don’t get in there) until near the end and they don’t really waste any time hiding or popping out of anywhere. There are a couple of surprise jump scares, but for the most part it’s all pretty straightforward and often quite dull. The middle stretch of the film is just them looking around the house for the stranger and not finding him. You know not much can happen since you’re shown where the stranger is at, and the bad guys are still outside at this point, so you’re now just watching people slowly walk around a house. It’s about as engaging as it sounds.
I also do take some issue with the movie’s suggestion that everybody on the planet is a secret murderer who would just love to kill somebody, but can’t because it’s against the law. The idea is that as soon as we are given a free opportunity, we would kill somebody immediately without a second thought. We’re aching to do it! I don’t necessarily agree with it being that black and white and there’s room to really explore that idea, but this isn’t the movie that does it.
That’s my biggest issue with the movie overall. There’s a lot of room here to really explore the idea and bring out the obvious satire, but instead we get a standard story about a bunch of people trying way too hard to be scary bothering a rather bland family. This is the one time where I think a prequel is necessary. I want to see what led to the decision to put the purge into action. How did the first purge go? The back story sounds like the most interesting part, so I really hope they explore that. This movie feels like somebody came up with a neat idea, but then had no idea how to execute on it.
In conclusion, it offers very mild thrills but I can’t recommend this one. It’s the most unoriginal execution of an original idea I have maybe ever seen. Not really worth your time.