The Purge is the definition of 'wasted opportunity'. I cannot put it any more bluntly or matter-of-fact than that. For a mountain of clichés and lame plotting put the dampener on a dystopian sci-fi flick with a very smart premise, or rather, an imaginative take on the voyeurism and spectatorship.
On one specific night of the year, June 7th into 8th, in America, homicide is permissible for 12 hours. The emergency services take a well-earned breather, put their feet up and let chaos reign. That isn’t the intriguing part however, because, as concepts/ideas go, it’s pretty daft and entirely unworkable. What makes the film (hypothetically) engaging is the response to this socio-political nightmare scenario by the characters. The early scenes of Ethan Hawke’s wealthy family man, James Sandin, alone in his office watching the board of monitors and preparing for lockdown, suggests a movie that never arrives. Hints of Pasolini’s Salò are tantalisingly echoed, in so much as remotely positioned figures view live scenes of sickening degradation and violence from the comfort of their own room. (They might even get off on it.)
Sandin and his brood believe they are physically and mentally secure from the barbarous goings-on outside and will spend the night watching movies, drinking soda and munching on Kettle Chips, as their neighbourhood and the entire country partakes in a marathon of murder.
It would be unfair to suggest The Purge is an empty-headed. Unfortunately, James DeMonaco, the director and writer, feels fit to willfully ignores points of rich subtext to find succour in the arms of the home invasion movie. Audiences will easily identify with a man shooting another man trepassing on his sacred, Ikea bedecked turf than any highfalutin social commentary and philosophical investigations. The makers, therefore, are not interested in the more rewarding tributaries of their tale. It's a real shame.
In the second act, a gang of angel-faced killers turn up at the Sandins’ door, all preppy good manners and vile Social Darwinist attitudes, along with Manson Family style acolytes in flowery print dresses, waving their machetes and guns in the air like they just don't care. The film becomes less and less engaging as mild-mannered Sandin and his family turn into action zeroes and protect their home from this band of posh psychos.
The Purge did respectable business when released in May 2013 and there's a sequel due imminently.