The Purge (2013)

The Purge (2013)

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Can I interest you in home insurance?
Can I interest you in home insurance?

Twitter Plot Summary: Crime is down to 1% thanks to a 12 hour period every year where all crime is legal. Ethan Hawke and family try to make it through the night.

Genre: Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

Director: James DeMonaco

Key Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaid Kane, Edwin Hodge.

Five Point Summary:

1. Sorry, but the conceit that crime is down because it’s legal for 12 hours a year is silly. People just don’t work that way.
2. Remote controlled baby robot – invented by a strange child.
3. How big is their house?!
4.  Those rich kids outside are creepy.
5. Why has it suddenly become a Rambo film?

Set in the near future of 2022, The Purge is a slightly “out there” concept. Apparently, by giving everybody one night every 12 months to do whatever they like – to kill, to maim, to achieve catharsis – the aforementioned “Purge”, is enough to reduce crime to 1% and to see in a new period of economic wealth and stability. I doubt very much that crime would be reduced to such a low level even if people were given carte blanche to kill whomever they wanted to on a weekly basis, let alone a mere 12 hours every 12 months. Subsequently I think the best way to enjoy the film is to gloss over this little conundrum and disengage your brain. Unfortunately I did question many aspects of both the story and the world in which it exists.

For example – there’s one point when the daughter says “Tell Dad I’m sorry” before disappearing for a bit. Sorry, what? How big is this house, exactly? The parents spend ages scuttling through the house looking for her, all the while trying to find both her and the homeless guy that the son foolishly allowed inside. There’s a number of plot incredulities like this, but there are also a few small twists to the established formula that justify a viewing.

Both kids seem to be suffering from classic signs over over-privileged existence – daughter Zoey wants to be with a boy whom her father disapproves of (and who is probably a little too old for her based on her schoolgirl attire). Naturally she rebels by sneaking him into her room. Charlie, the youngest, messes about with technology and has a creepy little remote controlled car that has a camera built into a baby doll, which he drives around the house. He also sets the story off by letting the homeless guy into the house in the first place. Again, rebelling against his parents but this time with regard to their laissez-faire attitude to The Purge.

There are themes bubbling under the surface – inhumanity to others, our natural predisposition for violence etc, but they’re not given opportunity to breathe. Okay, so Lena Headey’s character is forced to brandish a gun and finds herself woefully incapable of using it properly, but you get the impression the scriptwriter was trying to make a point, probably in the first draft, and that’s slowly been eroded following numerous re-drafts.

I’m actually more interested in the wider world itself – why did the USA resort to electing the New Founding Fathers? What weapons are considered to be above “Class 4”? Is Justin Bieber still alive in this possible 2022? And if he is, why hasn’t somebody done something about it?

Can you believe this storyline? It's ludicrous!
Can you believe this storyline? It’s ludicrous!

Another area I’d be interested to see more of is the political backdrop. There’s plenty of background news throughout the film (and, indeed, the end credits) that go some way to answering this question, but it’s almost deliberately vague, just enough to get you thinking but not so much you know exactly how this future works. There’s several mentions of how the Purge is surreptitiously designed to kill off the poor, who aren’t going to be in a position to defend themselves come Purge night. There’s a couple of comments from Ethan Hawke that, before the Purge, he and his wife were living on the breadline. Who’s to say things could have turned out much differently for them? The same goes to the homeless guy they rescue – he has dog tags so he’s clearly former military yet is living on the streets. What does that say about this new, nirvana-esque United States?

Now, whilst much of the above might come across as a little negative, please be aware that I did actually quite enjoy the film, it’s just a bit confused as to what kind of film it wants to be. Is it a near future sci-fi parable, commenting on today’s society? Or is it a spooky horror as evidenced by the creepy masks worn by the kids outside and the quiet walk around the house in near darkness? Or is it even a violent action flick, which is demonstrated in the final act? It’s actually all three, but the fact it doesn’t stick to a particular style does it no favours. First, more clarity regarding the world in which the film exists, first of all. Second, more build-up, tension and purpose to allowing the homeless guy inside. And third… well, most of the final act could stay as it was.

Also remember that old adage of script writing. If you introduce something in the script, be it a person, object or concept, make sure it has a purpose. This holds true throughout The Purge, so bear this in mind when you reach the finale.

Favourite scene: Ethan Hawke gets to go all Rambo.

Quote: “Our target for this year’s purge is hiding in your home.  You have one hour to find him and give him to us or we will kill all of you.  We will be coming in.”

Silly Moment: Splitting up to search the house for the homeless guy. Seriously, is the house that big?

Score: 3/5

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