The year is 2022. North America, ‘a nation reborn’, is enjoying economic success and domestic peace. Unemployment is at 1%, poverty is almost unheard of, and crime rates are at an all-time low, all due to the ‘Purge’. The ‘Purge’ is an annual event that the ‘New Founders’ dedicated to the legalisation of crime, in which citizens are encouraged into 12 hours of violence, chaos and murder, so as to allow society a release for their hatred and lust for violence.
We experience the ‘Purge’ with the Sandin’s, a wealthy family residing in an upper-class, gated community that do not participate in the crime, but are generally grateful for the good it does. However, rationality comes in the form of teenager Charlie Sandin, the only member of the family to question the ethics of the ‘Purge’ and, in an act of compassion, takes action by aiding a homeless man in his attempt to escape a group of young, elitist anarchists that, soon after, show up sporting disturbing masks to present the family with a conundrum: release their target, or join the man as a collective focus of the group’s violence.
The Purge is produced by Blumhouse Productions, known for gritty thrillers such as Paranormal Activity and Dark Skies, and like these, the plot is left to carry the film while the majority of the other aspects remain flimsy and unsubstantial. As the parents, Ethan Hawke (Sinister, Daybreakers) and Lena Headey (300, Game of Thrones) deliver solid performances for the most part, and although occasionally monotonous, they can be credited as consistent and strong overall. However, Adelaide Kane and Max Burkholder laid it on thick with their performances as the teens of the family as they deliver their roles uncomfortably and are, at times, painfully awkward to behold. The same can be said about Rhys Wakefield’s portrayal of ‘polite stranger’, leader of the anarchists that serve as villains, as his intriguing character transforms into another exhausted Joker rip-off.
Typical of its genre, The Purge manages to encapsulate current social fears and tap into an Invasion of the Body Snatchers state of anxiety and xenophobia, providing audiences with an undercurrent of uneasiness and perpetual paranoia. This theme is reflected back to the audience as it subtly provokes self-reflection: How would I, and those around me, behave given the opportunity of legal crime? Yet, this tension-fuelled investment is weakened by an extremely flawed storyline, an array of tired scenario clichés and characters so hollow they’re borderline caricature.
To further the disappointment, the narrative is painfully clumsy and loose to the point of counter-logical, as characters and important plot points habitually fade into the darkness and resurface again at convenient intervals. Bar a couple of clever exceptions, the use of sound and lighting to invoke fear becomes generic and tiresome, as camerawork and cinematography intended to be edgy and experimental instead seems familiar and worn down by the genre.
While the idea undoubtedly radiated potential, it became somewhat anticlimactic with the realisation that this is just another home invasion movie, and as the film progresses, the sense that the entire premise has been wasted only deepens. The premise remains to be taken advantage of as our experience of it is regrettably narrow, and many themes, whether demonstrative or philosophical, remain unexplored. Even the select few times the audience is offered a political or cultural stance on the subject, they are half-hearted at best, and all too brief. For example, while the public broadcast explains the rules of the ‘Purge’ it is made clear that all crime is permitted, including murder, with the exception of select government officials. The film then goes on to emphasise violent crime but amidst the chaos, neglects the potential of victimless, organised, and white collar crime, abandoning many stimulating possibilities.
Despite its fascinating premise and rare moments of clever composition (which are much too few and far between), The Purge fails to deliver overall, a bitter disappointment for the sake of wasted time and potential alike.