The Purge attempts to thrill viewers while simultaneously making them ponder the consequences of violence. From listening to the characters alternating between killing each other and pontificating, it’s safe to assume that writer-director James DeMonaco, who penned The Negotiator and Jack, wanted to make a “parking lot” movie, one that viewers can discuss on the way to their cars and maybe even on their way home.
Unfortunately, it’s more an “exit sign” movie, where the audience quickly forgets the content, even though it has been pounded into the spectators’ heads. It doesn’t help that the core idea behind the film sounds problematic even to the most lax of thinkers.
A mere nine years into the future, the United States has managed to have a thriving economy and low crime after some type of coup by a group known as the “New Founding Fathers.”
This unseen group has set up a new tradition called “Purge Night” on March 21, when the citizens of this country can ignore just about any law, including the ones that don’t allow us to kill each other.
The practice seems to have widespread support,except from those who don’t have the cash to shell out enough money to shield themselves for 12 hours. That doesn’t seem to be a problem for James Sandlin (Ethan Hawke), who has made a sizable income for himself and his family selling high-dollar security systems to himself and his neighbors.
Despite living in what could best be described as the most luxurious panic room on the block and having an entire arsenal in their living room, the other Sandlins have reason to be nervous.
Teenage Charlie (Max Burkholder) has a vestigial sense of compassion, which is ironic because he’s also got a bad heart. His older sister Zoe (Adelaide Kane) has a determined boyfriend (Tony Oller) that her dad can’t stand, and James’ wife, Mary (Lena Headey), wonders if the neighbors resent all the additions that James’ sales have enabled them to afford.
Of course, having steel plates covering their windows and doors doesn’t do much good on this Purge Night because the human factor has negated the technological solutions that James has set up.
DeMonaco tries without much success to juggle a “serves you right” sense of schadenfreude with a feeling of dread for the Sandlins. That latter emotion never comes.
Because the idea of Purge Night seems so mushy-headed to begin with, it’s hard to get worked up over whether the family will make it through the night. In addition, much of what follows is rather predictable, which negates any suspense that DeMonaco tries to generate with a droning score and POV shots from a roving camera that Charlie has created.
In the end, it’s hard to take the film’s condemnation of violence seriously when the filmmakers seem to revel in how deep knives can tear into flesh or how exhilarating it can seem to have smug villains encounter a Second Amendment solution.
The Purge 71 Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, Tony Oller, Arija Bareikis, Tom Yi Director: James DeMonaco Rating: R for strong, disturbing violence and some language Running time: 85 minutes