Sunday, June 9, 2013
The Purge Doesn't Quite Live Up To Its Cool Concept
James (Ethan Hawke) is a family man who loves the annual purge more for the dollar signs than for the cleansing of the soul: he's a home security salesman, and in this story (obviously), making your home a fortress of the latest protection technology is of utmost importance. He's one of the leading salesman for his company, and he has one of the biggest houses in his upscale suburban neighborhood, most of which is equipped with his expertise. Things begin briskly--with hours and then minutes before the annual purge begins--as we meet James's family: his wife, Mary (Lena Headey, of Cersei Lannister fame) holds a nervous tension about the yearly event. His 18-year-old daughter, Zoey, is the typical rebellious type--wearing a short skirt and making out with her older boyfriend, she'd rather spend The Purge texting emoticons than watching the violent news coverage. Most importantly, we have younger Charlie, who questions the need for The Purge and also has a cool camera-equipped Roomba-esque remote control robot that roams the house, spying on anything interesting.
As the clock strikes 7 P.M., James enters the code, the house goes into lock-down mode--complete with metal gates that slam shut over every door and window--and the security cameras pop up on the many screens on the one wall of his McMansion. And when those gates slam shut, it also shuts out the possibility of the film taking a wider view of the futuristic concept that was so intriguing. No need to spoil the specifics, but the rest of the run time involves a hurt man begging to be let in, a group of characters that doesn't bring much new to the home invasion sub-genre of horror films, and a few predictable twists that are not un-enjoyable but also aren't surprising in the least.
The film was written and directed by James DeMonaco, who guided Hawke in 2005's Assault on Precinct 13. He definitely has a knack for setting up intense scenes where the tension is completely palpable. One of the more creative aspects of the film is Charlie's remote control robot that crawls from room to room, and it's not giving anything away to state that it plays an interesting role--especially with the unique camera angles. A couple of the action scenes are very well staged, too: specifically when Hawke has to creatively take out two intruders in his billiard room. Instead of relying on shaky cam (like so many other action thrillers), the violence is clean and concise.
There's no doubt that DeMonaco put in an admirable effort. There is a major problem though: his script gives us so many things to think about--the fact that The Purge may be the Government's way of ridding the country of the homeless and less fortunate, the notion that different races are more targeted, the fact that top-level government officials are safe from the violence--that when the film turns into a typical home invasion thriller, it's hard not to feel let down by its semi-wasted potential. The Purge could have been an epic sci-fi film with big ideas that was smart and exciting. Instead, it's just a decent action thriller about the steps you take to protect your family and your home. (B-)