The Purge- Spoilers and Sarcasm Included
The other night I went to see the horror (horror? should we call it horror?) film The Purge, written and directed by the fairly unrenowned James Demonaco, whose most notable work appears to be on the screenplay for Assault on Precinct 13 and the new TV series Crash. What initially excited me about the film was the idea behind it. Basically, set in the year 2022,the “New Founders” of America have brought in a law stating that for 12 hours one day a year in America, all crime is legal and no emergency services will be reachable so as to “purge” the country of those deemed unnecessary to its growth and prosperity. All sounds like a great idea for a film up until this point, but then we are introduced to our protagonists for the next 85 minutes; good old Ethan Hawke and his more-American-than-wiping-your-pet-eagle’s-arse-with-a-star-spangled-banner family, which includes Queen Cersei herself Lena Headey.
This purge tactic (as we are told repeatedly by Mr. Hawke and his wife throughout the first 30 minutes) has been incredibly efficient…..until now (shock horror gasp). Once their home is on lock-down for the purge, their son spies a man calling for help in the street outside their house who is looking for sanctuary, and promptly lets the stranger in to his house not thinking twice about the whole murderers are allowed to murder if they want to malarkey, and essentially just ruins an otherwise quiet night for his family.
Once in the house, the man is abruptly scared off by the handsome but psychotic boyfriend of Ethan Hawke’s ridiculously over-sexualised daughter (I mean really, do schools actually still enforce the short pleated skirt and knee-high sock look?) who pulls a gun on Dad and is quickly killed; cue moral crisis on the part of Ethan Hawke. The man disappears to hide in their mansion which is so big and confusing I half expected David Bowie to jump out and steal a baby, and then these guys turn up:
Creepy, right? Wrong. For the first few minutes that they appear on-screen, they are genuinely quite scary, with their weird smiling masks and machetes. However, their leader then begins his monologue. At first he delivers it in quite a chilling, completely deranged-yet-polite manner a la Hollywood Psychopath, but honestly this just goes on too long and becomes very strained and feels like the noting on the script to the actor was “Try and act like Patrick Bateman, or if that fails just smile a lot”. On top of that, the other members of the gang just mope about acting like slightly more threatening and sexualised Scooby Doo villains.
The leader gives the family an hour to deliver their target back to them, otherwise they will storm the house and kill everyone. Then the film really just descends in to complete moral chaos, with ethical dilemmas left right and centre. Firstly they don’t want to give him up, then they do, then the children cry for a bit but ultimately decide that while they all feel terrible about killing that one specific man, they have no objections to killing a large group of people.
Once the gang are in the house the only actually scary part of the film begins, with a couple of jumpy parts and a lot of graphic violence (hooray!) However, this is very short-lived and then we get a final twist in the story that all the neighbours who stated earlier in the film that they hate the family actually want to kill them! (you may all pick your jaws up off the floor now). Anyway, this bit is added on to the end in the same rushed and predictable way as all the other parts of the film, just as the film seemed to be getting good and completely ruins any chance of you actually caring about anyone or anything in the film. Overall, the morals that I got from the story were: Don’t Be a Bitch to Thy Neighbour and don’t give your kids the key code to your security system.
Ultimately, I found this film really disappointing, not because I expect great things from modern horror/thriller films but more because it was such an excellent idea and now can’t be used in the proper way. I really do wish DeMonaco had just given his script to someone more established and experienced and let them make it what it should have been, which for me would have been a more tense thriller not set around a family who we’re forced to care about; maybe something to do with being out on the run during the purge a la 28 Days Later. What I will say, though, is that there are a couple of laughs, a few jumps and a performance from Lena Heaney which carries the film entirely. Overall, don’t avoid like the plague but don’t expect much.