At the Movies: The Purge

Sometimes you come across a movie promo and think, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” which is usually followed by “How did anyone come up with such a stupid idea,” which is then followed by “I’ve got to see this.”

Which brings us to “The Purge.”

purge_ver2_xlg__spanThe story takes place in the year 2022 in these United States. Crime and unemployment are at an all-time low. “Why?” you ask. Because “Our New Founding Fathers” (whoever they are) have declared a new holiday — The Purge.

The Purge is a 12-hour period (7 p.m. to 7 a.m.) in which people are free to commit any crime they like — murder, rape, theft, jay walking — and they will not be prosecuted. No matter what’s going on at your house, dialing 911 will get you nowhere.

Now you’re probably thinking, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” How would 12 hours of lawlessness a year result in 364 days and 12 hours of peace? And how does the purge affect the jobless rate? And how did such a crazy law get enacted in the first place?

Sadly those questions are never answered in “The Purge,” although apparently the poor and bad bosses are the people most often killed during the event, which might explain why unemployment is low. Oh, and “level 10 government officials” are conveniently exempt from harm, which might answer the last question.

But the main question is, “What kind of story can you pull from such an odd idea?” Curiosity not only killed the cat, but it has brought me to many a questionable movie.

Which brings us to our plot summary.

Ethan Hawke stars as James Sandin, husband to Mary (Lena Headey), and father to Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder). James makes a living selling security systems and business has been good thanks to the purge. So good, in fact, that he’s been able to put an addition on the house in their gated community, something that has made the Joneses green with envy.

The fated time arrives and James turns on the security system, turning his house into a fortress. Things go awry when a stranger (Edwin Hodge) comes to the door begging for asylum. Young, kind-hearted Charlie lets the man in without parental consent.

Soon a band of thugs show up at the house demanding the stranger be sent outside so they can properly purge. Failure to do so will result in huffing and puffing and blowing the fancy security gates down. Oh, and the family will be killed along with the stranger.

While it starts off interesting, “The Purge” then becomes just another home-invasion slasher movie. There’s a brief moral dilemma before James and Mary arm themselves and go about defending their home and children. From there its standard fare — good guy is about to be killed, someone shows up and shoots bad guy. Repeat four or five times. I suppose there are supposed to be some surprising twists to these actions but everything is pretty much foreshadowed well in advance.

Written and directed by  James DeMonaco (which answers the question, “Whose stupid idea was this?”), “The Purge” wants to be thought-provoking but it’s more head-scratchingly dumb. Without going into spoiler territory, the motivations most of the people involved here have for murder is incredibly petty. Or stupid.

And I think I’ve used the word “stupid” enough for one review, so I’ll sign off.


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