a critiQal film review The Purge (2013)

Plot: In an America wracked by crime and overcrowded prisons, the government has sanctioned an annual 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity - including murder - becomes legal. When an intruder breaks into James Sandin’s (Hawke) gated community during the yearly lockdown, he begins a sequence of events that threatens to tear a family apart. Now, it is up to James, his wife, Mary (Headey), and their kids to make it through the night without turning into the monsters from whom they hide.

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Looking for a bit of horror, we stumbled across a series neither of us had ever seen: The Purge. With Trump’s every day in office leading us into an unknown dystopia (from which we may never recover), it seemed fitting that the poster for the latest in the series, The First Purge (2018), showcase an eerie mockery of Trump’s famous red campaign hat.

But, would The Purge, like Saw (2004) before it, be a good enough movie to spawn a series (no matter how crappy the rest of the series is)? Would this timely series be a bit too uncomfortable for horror fans, since there’s a possibility Trump’s reign will lead us down this path? Or would this just be another cheesy horror flick trying to play off of people’s fears?

Ethan Hawke leads the cast in The Purge, and does a decent job. While the movie never really makes any of its characters likeable at all, he gives a decent performance as a dad stuck between a chaotic world and trying to do right by his kids. The pivotal points of the film come when he has to decide on a course of action that will either make him a monster in front of his kids, or be what is really best for them. It puts him in a tough spot, and he does a solid job of showing that conflict during the film.

Lena Headey, on the other hand, plays it completely different in The Purge. The typical housewife image at the start, her character arc is different, while she is trying to do what she can to save her family, she is still hesitant about jumping into the fray. This doesn’t really change, and while she seems armed and ready, whenever she runs into trouble, she becomes nothing more than another damsel in distress. It’s odd, since many films these days show a lot more empowerment to women, and in fact, even this film gives more power to the females in the crazy killers that are attacking. But, a surprise showing of strength at the end of the film does a bit to redeem Lena’s character, giving her a bit more of a character arc than the viewer was expecting.

Unfortunately, like most family-in-danger horror flicks, the kids are once again to blame for putting everyone in danger in The Purge. Whether it’s the idiotic girl having no problem with her boyfriend wanting to “talk” to her dad on the one night of the year when murder is legal, or the silly introverted son opening their house to let someone in, it’s the kids who are solely to blame for everything. Sadly, that’s a trope that’s been used too many times before, and it’s really getting old. How come none of these movie families ever have smart kids? Jeez.

And then there’s the whole setup to The Purge (aside from a brief clue as to what The Purge: Election Year (2016) may be about), which the film tries to hammer into the viewer’s head ad nauseam. A night of anarchy, where everything, including murder, is allowed? Why? Everyone in the film keeps saying it’s made the country better, but surely, every parent is going through the same thing when their kids don’t believe that. And who would really? People who can commit these atrocities on this one special night can then go around acting normal the next day? Really? Viewers won’t buy it as anything more than a cheap setup for a horror flick, which is exactly what it is.

And that aforementioned aftermath is the biggest thing The Purge is lacking. How do these people react to each other the next day? Can they honestly think if someone attacked another person (and permanently injured them), would they just small and say hi the next day like it didn’t happen? And what if someone killed a family member? Would the rest of the family really have no problem seeing them walking around free as a bird the next day? It’s highly doubtful.

But, really, that’s only a few of the major plot holes in The Purge. Still, they did start of the series correctly by showcasing how this night of mayhem affects only one family (and only gives glimpses of what happens around the country). By doing that, they bring the concept to a much more personal level for the viewer. A smart idea. But, by not really giving the characters a chance to win over the audience, and instead letting them do all sorts of idiotic things right from the start (especially the poor scapegoat kids), it make the viewer stay a bit detached. Sure, they still want to see what happens with the family (the viewers aren’t animals, after all), but the impact is lessened, and the viewer won’t ever lose that detached feeling while watching the film. That is, until the last few minutes, when the film shows how good it could have been in what is easily the best scene in the movie.

And maybe that’s why they saved that scene for last. With such a good final scene (and Lena’s character finally getting some guts too), the viewer will leave the film ready for more in the series. However, unless they start watching The Purge: Anarchy (2014) immediately, the viewer might find themselves realizing that, sadly, The Purge wasn’t that good. Without that ending scene, it’s just a lesser quality rehash of Panic Room (2002).

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