‘The Purge’ is Entertaining What-If Escapism

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – A vast majority of James DeMonaco’s “The Purge” makes absolutely no sense. It is the kind of what-if thriller that demands that the viewer put on blinders, suspend disbelief, and not pull at the plot threads left dangling or risk tearing the whole thing apart. It’s totally nonsense. And yet it knows that it’s mostly illogical, embracing its ridiculousness to just the right degree that becomes escapist entertainment if you’re willing not to take it too seriously. Strong performances, a clever set-up, well-executed interior-shot action, and just enough goofy thematic exploration to throw ideas at you without asking you to take a single damn one of them as serious subject matter – it’s tense, crazy, and gloriously stupid. And I mean that as a compliment.

The set-up is meant to grab you with its batshit ridiculousness from the beginning – In the future, there will be one night a year, for twelve hours, when all crime is legal. Not only is “The Purge” designed to allow people to expel all those violent urges that pile up from day to day but it’s also a timely chance for the haves to get rid of the have-nots who clutter their streets. The cultural implication that the rich not only want homeless people to leave their front step but take a machete to the head is so ridiculous in theory that I truly think that anyone who thought this kind of comic book what-if could be turned into an honest exploration of violence in America in ANYONE’S hands is fooling him or herself. It’s designed to be over-the-top and that’s exactly what James DeMonaco’s script is as it playfully exaggerates the fears of Middle America from minorities to teenage boys and does so in the guise of a well-made thriller.

The Purge
The Purge
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) has it all together. He has a beautiful wife named Mary (Lena Headey), sweet daughter named Zoey (Adelaide Kane), and thoughtful son named Charlie (Max Burkholder). He’s also made a fortune on The Purge by selling his neighbors top-notch security systems. He may not believe in actually hitting the streets with weaponry but he’s made his family happy and safe essentially on the bloody bodies of others. As the Sandin family prepares for the lockdown that comes for all who can afford it on the night of the Purge, the first crack in what is about to become the worst night of their lives surfaces in the form of Zoey’s boyfriend. He stays in the Sandin home after the metal shutters go down and begins what becomes an unpredictable night for our futuristic nuclear family.

Things go really from bad to worse when Charlie spots a bloodied man on their street through his family’s security cameras. He’s begging for help. Charlie opens the front door and lets him in. Then those who were chasing him, led by a creepy Rhys Wakefield, get to the Sandin’s doorstep and order them to let him out. Or they’re coming in.

“The Purge” has an old-fashioned, simple set-up (all Blumhouse Films, the producers of “Insidious,” “Paranormal Activity” do) in that it’s one set and has a limited cast. With such over-complication in the thriller genre with twist upon twist, I found the very setting of “The Purge” more effective than most of this film’s peers. I felt the claustrophobia of the Sandin household and DeMonaco knows how to use the limited tools he has within it for tension, whether it’s playing with views from the internal cameras or the dark hallways with someone nefarious lurking behind one of our heroes. The final act of “The Purge” loses its way with one twist too many but the middle act in which the Sandins are divided and fighting for their lives works on a purely genre level.

The Purge
The Purge
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Performances are pretty good throughout as Hawke can more than carry this kind of piece and I hope Headey turns her “Game of Thrones” fame into more roles. Wakefield makes a solid villain with his Joker-esque smile hiding true insanity. The suggestion that the most terrifying bad guy of the future could be the over-privileged, spoiled, high-on-testosterone preppie is one that made me smile. Honestly, when I see a gaggle of them in Starbucks, I get a little squeamish.

“The Purge” is undeniably flawed. Like I said, one twist too many for sure, and the script leaves some elements hanging while overemphasizing others. And the minute you start asking questions (like what exactly was the plan of character A when he brought a gun downstairs?) the whole thing falls apart. Don’t ask questions. When those what-if episodes of old anthology series like “Amazing Stories” or “Tales From the Crypt” pop up, you go with the goofy concept and just enjoy the ride. Consider “The Purge” the movie equivalent.

“The Purge” stars Ethan Hawke, Lena Headye, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, and Rhys Wakefield. It was written and directed by James DeMonaco. It opens on Friday, June 7, 2013, and is rated R.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

trimgirl's picture

want to see

I sooo want to see this movie

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