Film: The Purge
Starring: Ethan Hawke
Directed by: James DeMonaco

The Purge opens in an America that looks familiar, but in reality is quite different than the world we now know. For twelve hours every year, all crime is legal. Murder, robbery, you name it – for one night everything is fair game. Members of the press promote the annual event as a way to cleanse ourselves of all the hate and aggression that builds up throughout the year, while others say it’s more of a ritualistic way to kill lower class citizens unable to defend themselves who feed off the system without any guilt. Whatever the answer, “the purge” has resulted in the best economy and lowest crime rates in our nation’s history. Almost none of this matters in the film The Purge, but I’ll be damned if it’s not a cool setup for what ultimately becomes a bland and derivative home invasion movie that somehow overstays its welcome without crossing the ninety-minute mark.

Ethan Hawke stars as man who has just completed the best sales of any home security salesman in his company. We meet him on the night of the annual purge and at first things seem like just another prelude to mass killing. Neighbors are walking pets in their suburban sprawl housing development, while others sharpen machetes in the backyard. A completely normal setting for the time, and neither Hawke nor his family think the night will be anything to remember. The hour of mayhem falls, the family puts their house on lockdown (at the last possible second for no reason other than dramatic effect), and everyone splits up to go about their lives.

As you already know, this calming sense of safety does not last long, and soon an unforeseen twist in the night’s plans finds the family pitted against not one, but two antagonists who have absolutely no reason to care about the family in question. If it weren’t for the over-arching plot point that all murder is legal for twelve hours, these characters probably would never interact, let alone try to kill one another. If you can make it past that, and I’m willing to bet most can for the promise of something big in the end, there is only more trouble in head as what aims to be a terrifying threat just beyond the door becomes a redundant (and rather silly) ode to wannabe psychos that never completely works.

Without wasting two thousand words, The Purge has many flaws. The most gratuitous of these, perhaps, is the fact it completely lacks focus. Every single decision the family makes offers little-to-no reasoning or sense, and worse, they never seem to learn from their mistakes. It’s a series of people falling over each other’s mistakes that lacks a single moment of someone thinking or acting rationally. It’s so bad, in fact, that the audience in my sold out screening began loudly booing and sighing before the midway point of the story. This continued throughout the last half of the film, and got so bad some even began to laugh loudly when blatantly bad decisions were made.

For a film that takes place inside a home filled with people who live in said home most days, there are at least 3 sequences involving people who turn a corner on screen and are described in dialogue as “running off” or “running away” to places no one can later locate. These people live in this house, presumably for years based on the information presented in the beginning, and yet they don’t know where their teenage children go when they storm out of a room? There is also a side plot involving the daughter’s boyfriend that is paper thin, messy, and completely disregarded as soon as the body count is unnecessarily boosted.

By the time The Purge reaches its would-be thrilling final chapter, all fun has essentially vanished from the film. You’ve seen almost every character face death only to be saved at the last possible second, and then later witnessed the same character turn on someone else to the point you’re far more annoyed than entertained. The battle you have been anticipating finally rolls in, but before you can sink your teeth in, it too vanishes, and the film opts to limp across the finish line with a pathetic attempt at making a dark tale feel light rather than sprint to a conclusion with the payoff everyone thought they were paying to see.

Sitting through The Purge doubles as a test of one’s own ability to fight back every urge in their body to stand up and scream with rage over the stupidity of others. The film wants so badly to be a hip, high-concept thriller and instead ends up being one of the most maddening experiences put to film in recent memory. With the exception of Ethan Hawke and even Rhys Wakefield, both of whom deliver killer performances while being completely wasted, every character in The Purge is nothing more than a series of poor decisions and weak acting waiting to ruin your night. This film could have been so great, but instead it will likely go down as one of the biggest genre letdowns of 2013.

Skip The Purge or find yourself spending the next day wishing you had.

Score: D+

Review written by: James Shotwell (Twitter)

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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