Thursday, 13 June 2013

Review: The Purge

Year: 2013
Director:  James DeMonaco
Screenplay: James DeMonaco
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Rhys Wakefield, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge

Synopsis is here

When the cinematic year ends, The Purge will probably gain a mention as the little thriller that could. The $3 Million budgeted film grossed $36.4 million on its opening weekend.  The film also gleefully beat Vince Vaughan’s and Owen Wilson’s high profile comedy vehicle The Internship to the number one spot in the U.S box office. The amount of money made should not (and doesn't) reflect the quality of the film, but its success reminds us that when it comes to movies, a curious premise may be all we need to get our butt on the seat.

The hook is simple. In the near future, America has ordained an annual purge in which for one 12 hour period, all criminal activity is permitted and emergency services suspended. All anger and hate is consolidated for one day and forgotten for the rest of the year.  America has thrived since the introduction to the purge, crime and unemployment at an all time low.

Genre fans should be salivating at the high concept. Like a decent idea on Dragon’s Den, you ask yourself why such a concept hasn't been made sooner. Writer/Director James DeMonaco only seems to sweeten the deal with subtexts and plot strands that hint at the toxic motives that would not only help put this in place but fuel such an institution. We’re told that United States is ruled by the New Founding Fathers of America while characters claim that the purge is a chance to be “cleansed” and “reborn”. The faux spiritual slant placed on such a corrupt moral landscape sends chills up the spine, as does the cheesy Uncle Sam advertising the crop up in a few scenes.

DeMonaco seems to settle his sights upon the class divide. Ethan Hawke’s James Sandin; a successful home security developer, finds himself and his family harbouring a homeless African American male (Hodge), who is being stalked by a gang of well, masked Caucasian Purgers.  Ideas and themes are left to dangle tantalisingly as the film sets up its pieces.

Unfortunately the films set up and often evocative imagery is marred by weak execution. DeMonaco pulls far too many punches for his own good, turning a nifty premise into a more generic home invasion piece. The film holds little of the tension that could be found in the likes of ills (2006) or The Strangers (2008) and holds none of the bite that could be found in Micheal Haneke’s Funny Games (1997 + 2008). Meanwhile the steady performances from Hawke, Headey and the strangely unsettling Wakefield are unbalanced by some convoluted plotting and some of the films weaker performers.

If there’s something to be gained from The Purge, it is that that Platinum Dunes, look to be a far more interesting production company when they’re not reformatting old slasher movies.  The Purge has been successful enough to garner a sequel which will hopefully delve deeper into this frightful vision of the future. I feel however, the second entry may need more than a shiny gimmick to make people want to go.