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The Filmaholic Reviews: The Purge (2013)

Posted on the 04 October 2013 by Filmaholic Reviews @FilmaholicRvews

The Filmaholic Reviews: The Purge (2013)

With a face like that, he must be a terrible door-to-door salesman. 

The Lowdown: The Purge is a home invasion film dressed up to look like something special, but it really isn’t. It intends to be a social allegory about American culture, or something. It’s hard to tell since the message gets muddled somewhere in between and replaced by clichés and tension-sapping violence.
1. The Plot: In 2022, America has become a utopia; new founding fathers have brought crime to an all-time low, revived the economy, and have restored peace and happiness to the country. However, once a year, an event called The Purge occurs, during which all crime is legal for 12 hours and everyone can go out and release all the pent-up anger and frustration that has been eating at them for a whole year. The Sandin family has been living the American dream. James (Ethan Hawke) is a wealthy businessman who sells home security systems and is making a killing off of them (pun intended). Of course, he has also equipped his luxurious home with a security system, so that he, his wife Mary (Lena Headey), his son Charlie (Max Burkholder), and his daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) are protected on the night of The Purge. During The Purge, a man runs onto their property screaming for help. Despite having the house locked down, Charlie deactivates the security system and lets the man in. Then a group of sadistic young people wearing creepy masks come to the house demanding that the Sandins let the man go, for he is their prey. If they don’t, then they will come for the Sandins. I’ll give you three guesses as to how this turns out.
The Filmaholic Reviews: The Purge (2013)

2. The Characters:    Ethan Hawke (Sinister) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) are great actors. Even when they’re not trying their hardest, like in this film, their performances are still fine. As James and Mary Sandin, Hawke and Headey give the characters a sense of vulnerability. They’re clearly the victims in this case, and they at least act like it.

The Filmaholic Reviews: The Purge (2013)


The supporting characters in The Purge are a bit questionable, however. For starters, Charlie is a pale, pasty, introverted kid who spends a lot of time in his secret hiding place in his closet and driving a creepy toy car around the house. Um…ok? Even more questionable is his decision to let the random stranger into the house during The Purge, a.k.a. the time when everyone is out killing each other violently. What, he felt sorry for the guy? What if that guy was just guilt-trippin’ and just wanted to get into the house so that he could kill the Sandins? I understand that if Charlie hadn’t let the guy in, then there wouldn’t be a movie, but COME ON.Zoey, the daughter, is kind of a whiny character. Since she’s a teenager, she has a boyfriend who her parents disapprove of, and she acts like a total bitch. Could this character be more stock? Naturally, when stuff gets real in the house, she runs off and hides, which forces her concerned parents to search for her while crazies are flooding the house with automatic weapons. Great job, Zoey for all of the horrible situations you caused. What if you got caught and murdered? What if you hiding caused your parents to come looking for you, and then they got attacked because they were looking for you?

The Filmaholic Reviews: The Purge (2013)

See, this is what happens when you split up in a horror movie. 

The last character worth talking about is the leader of the sadistic gang that terrorize the Sandin home. Played by Rhys Wakefield, the guy has “slime” written all over him. He overacts and relishes his part, punctuating each line with an evil smirk. It’s a good performance, but since the film is thin soup, the end result is just another comically-evil villain. 
3. What the Movie Did Right: a) Great Concept: The Purge earns points for setting a horror movie in a dystopia; everything is peaceful and happy, except for one night where evil is unleashed and nothing can stop it. Of course, for the remainder of the year, everyone must feign happiness and utilize self-control. So what does that say about humans in general? That we’re all unhappy, evil beings inside, but since society revolves around nice things, we are all actually faking it? Clearly, when this film was pitched to the studio, they definitely had something here.
b) Narrow Focus: The film revolves entirely around the Sandin family and takes place pretty much entirely in their home. Except for some grainy news footage of people killing and pillaging, nothing of the outside world is shown. Keeping the film in the confines of one household affected by The Purge helped maintain focus. While the dystopian America was intriguing, if it was shown to us, then it would have caused tonal and pacing problems.
4. What the Movie Did Wrong: a) Loss of Meaning: Despite a great concept, the meaning gets lost somewhere in the middle. After the intro narration which details the rise of a new America and explains The Purge, there is really no more social commentary. Sure, there’s the Sandins who would prefer to stay home and protect the family instead of go out and murder, proving that they are sensible people. There is the gang of sadistic young people who are clearly horrible people who want to kill the homeless guy because he’s “inferior”, proving that their view of what is “superior” is warped. However, all this really demonstrates is shallow writing. It’s just good versus evil all over again. For a social allegory to be more effective, the characters and situations should be much more complex. The film does attempt to throw in some moral dilemmas, like in one scene where James ties up the homeless man who Charlie let into the house, threatening to send him back out to be killed, but his family convinces him to not do so. Sending the man out to be killed would, in a way, make James responsible for his death, but not sending the man out would mean that everyone would be slaughtered. Clearly, this is a situation that would spark debate. However, the scene is resolved quite easily since the movie is only two-thirds done by that point, and the house hasn’t been invaded yet. The ensuing carnage pretty much negates all of the intriguing moral dilemmas.
b) Too Narrow of a Focus: Focusing on one family affected by a dystopian America is a great way to observe the positive and negative effects of the drastic social change. However, the film limited the focus too much. The problem is that The Purge only occurs on one night every year, and it is basically an excuse for loads of violence. The Purge itself is the climax of a buildup of anger and frustration over an entire year, but we never see that buildup. All we see is a family in danger during The Purge, which doesn’t really differentiate them from any other normal family trying to survive The Purge. If we got to see the Sandins going through their normal lives in the new dystopian America, and we got to see all of the little things that frustrate them over the course of the year, and then the film ended with The Purge, that would make much more of an impact. However, that would probably be too meaningful and not violent enough for a horror film.  
c) Formulaic: Really, aside from the premise, The Purge isn’t very original. Once the psychotics storm the house, it basically becomes a series of chases, screaming, and kills. There is little tension, and the use of Charlie’s weird camera-toy-race-car thing is gimmicky and dumb. The crazies in the masks are also waaaaaaaay too sadistic to be taken seriously. They giggle and writhe in ecstasy after every kill, and even when they’re invading the house and trying to find the Sandins, they inexplicably pause to make out or fondle each other because they love murdering so much that it turns them on, or something. I guess it’s supposed to be unsettling, but it comes across as trying to hard to be evil.

The Filmaholic Reviews: The Purge (2013)

We're so judging the two of you right now. 

The Bottom Line: The Purge has an intriguing premise, but it’s just there to cover up the fact that the rest of the film is hardly original. In the end, it’s just a typical home-invasion film, but lacking the suspense that makes other home-invasion films better. I’d say watch The Strangers (2008) instead if you want tension and excitement instead of cheap thrills.
The Purgeis property of Blumhouse Productions, Platinum Dunes, and Universal International Pictures. This review was written by me.
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Copyright © Filmaholic Reviews, 2013

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