Monday, June 10, 2013

The Purge - Or, How To Get Rid Of Poor People For Less

Despite being all too brief and a little heavy-handed with the moralizing, The Purge is a suspenseful, fun, and unique twist on the typical home invasion movie.

The film takes place in a not-so-far-off future, where one night a year, all crime – including murder – is legal. The night is, of course, called “The Purge,” and it supposedly allows people the chance to release all their hatred and anger in one night, thus making violent crime nearly nonexistent during the rest of the year. It’s a fantastic premise, and just enough of a tweak to make this movie stand apart from other home invasion movies like The Strangers.

Ethan Hawke plays James, the patriarch of the Sandin family. He is the top seller of home security systems, living in the grandest home in a gated community with his two children, Charlie and Zooey, and his wife, Mary (Lena Headey). Naturally, he believes he has nothing to worry about come Purge night; he locks down the security system and goes to his office to do paperwork, as if it’s any other night. Of course, there are variables. The first is his daughter’s boyfriend (forbidden to date Zooey because he’s too old for her, according to James), who has snuck into the house for Purge night. The second is “the Bloody Stranger,” a man who stumbles into the gated community while being chased by a band of wealthy “hunters” who have chosen him as their target for the night. Charlie, who is already skeptical of the reasoning being the Purge, takes pity on the man and foolishly (but compassionately) lets him into the house. The wealthy hunters aren’t willing to give up on their intended prey, however, and demand that the family send him back out to them – before they break in and kill everyone.

What ensues is a lot of moral flip-flopping that really rams the ethics of the Purge down viewers’ throats. Is the Bloody Stranger’s life worth less than the lives of the Sandin family? Is it fair to sacrifice someone else’s life for one’s own? As I said, it’s all a bit overbearing, and leaves little for the audience to ponder on its own, but it’s full of interesting ideas nonetheless. But for better or worse, many of those questions fall to the wayside as the family fights off the wealthy, ferocious intruders and the movie devolves into a fairly straightforward home invasion flick.

Not that I minded – to the contrary. The home invasion scenes are fraught with suspense, punctuated by bursts of intensity, and complimented by a slick, creepy look. (Is there anything more sinister than a masked murderer? And Rhys Wakefield is marvelous as “the Polite Stranger,” the mannerly but terrifying head of the group of wealthy hunters.) As the film wraps up, we’re left with a Twilight Zone-esque twist that once again pounds the moral of the story into our brains. It’s a bit silly, but still effective.

Overall, I think The Purge could have been better. It’s too dumbed down to be as philosophical as the filmmakers seemed to want it to be. Taken for what it is, though – a home invasion film with a high-minded twist – it’s a fun ride that keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

Final Rating (out of 5):