Thursday, June 6, 2013
Review: THE PURGE Isn't The Conversation You Seek, But It Does Manage To Provoke Thought
Ethan Hawke's new film, THE PURGE, may not be the film you think it is. If you've read about its provocative concept, a legalized night of slaughter and mayhem in effort to eliminate the weak and poor, you at least raise an eyebrow in interest. But while that idea of the film is sadly not explored as much as it should be, you won't want to demand a refund for your viewing.
That's because, though the film struggles to flesh out this rather Dystopian concept (something nearly every futuristic film has these days), it succeeds in its gripping suspense and romantic eye for violence. The latter is really the conversation you'll leave the theater having, not its much more politically driven nutshell described above.
The film is set in the year 2022, and stars Hawke as James Sandin, devoted husband to Mary (Lena Headey) and father to Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane). On the surface, they're the stereotypical suburban family living in a gigantic house with two hard-headed teens and a passive housewife. This setup is perfect for what the film essentially becomes--a rather vapid yet gripping horror film.
James is the head of an über lucrative security company that protects rich people like his clan from the hungry perpetrators that blanket the night of the Purge, a 12-hour shift where no crime has any legal consequence. In other words, an otherwise sane set of people are totally free to run amok at their own free will. It is the citizen's job to try to stay alive and intact by dawn. Because, what this film thinly states is that most will use this opportunity to act out any pent up thirst for bloodshed. Presumably any other crime is a waste of time? Or should we believe that only the poor and seemingly uninvolved would engage in petty blue collar crimes, leaving them also to be victims for the angsty affluent crowd? In either case, crime is down to 1% across the country, so whatever the means, it's doing something right.
Normally, the Sandins are unaffected by this night of horrors, since they've got the money and wherewithal to purchase James's heavy duty security system for their own castle. They usually sit out the frightfest in the safety of their own home like it was any other day, negating their "natural rights at citizens" to abandon their morals and participate in the madness. Given that they live in a flourishing neighborhood, their neighbors also go unscathed.
All is status quo until the family winds up involuntarily harboring a homeless stranger (Edwin Hodge) from the streets seeking refuge. Having aggravated a group of overly enthusiastic perpetrators of the upper class variety (led by a maniacal Rhys Wakefield) earlier in the evening, this unnamed man is pursued all the way to his unlikely stop at the Sandins' residence. Such begins the worst night of their lives as the Sandins are forced to determined what they want to do with him.
This man, who essentially becomes a pawn for however either party wants to use him, presents another entry point for the film to delve into socio-economic commentary, especially with Headey and Hawke's characters. But writer/director James DeMonaco scarcely clips the surface to eagerly head back to horror film territory.
Although THE PURGE is genuinely terrifying at times, even with its basic genre tricks like turning off the lights and freaky face masks, it effectively leaves you asking yourself the all-valid question, what would you do in this situation? Would you sacrifice your life for another, or vice versa? This is where the film succeeds. It isn't the conversation that it should be on its own, but it encourages you as the moviegoer to start this kind of conversation on your own.
As you watch the film and cheer as the protagonists (Done well, that role would have blurred. But here it's the Sandins) fight to protect their family and themselves from these deranged culprits, another question arises: have we as the audience now become the accomplice in The Purge, a silent member of the group? There's no wrong answer here, but that in and of itself makes you think.
The underlying commentary within THE PURGE, the smaller annotations that you least expect, makes the film worth seeing.
Rating: C+ (*** out of *****)
THE PURGE is in theaters Friday.