Home is our sanctuary, where we feel safest, and The Purge plays with domicile insecurities, adding a unique twist that separates it from home invasion genre brethren – there’s a period, 12 hours, starting 7AM on March 21-March 22, 7 p.m., during which all crime is legal and first responder services are completely curtailed. This trial balloon become constitutionally enshrined and has helped ameliorate crime / unemployment rates.
A talking head touts the “aggression release” that comes from criminals being able to off one another carte blanche, and “purging” becomes a civic holiday tradition like football on Thanksgiving, with residents battening down the hatches so that they’re well-protected from roving criminal gangs.
This is extraordinarily stupid, as what makes criminals criminals is that they’re scofflaws, that portmanteau of, well, “scoffing at laws.” If everyone knows crime is legal, in the interests of self-preservation, a lot of gangsters will simply wait it out. Prison riots are rare for the very same reason: different racial groups ultimately benefit from not killing one another.
That being said, it’s a potentially interesting conceit, but The Purge purges its premise by not addressing the tensions between personal security and collective liberty and only hinting at class divisions but not exploring them, despite this being set in racially-charged Los Angeles, home to the Watts / LA riots. Instead, it reverts to home invasion-style tropes and with an endless supply of jump scares and flashlights shone into darkness.
He comes equipped with a doting wife, Lena, a sullen, mouthy teen daughter, Adelaide, and a whiz-kid son, Charlie. Interestingly, the latter is played by Max Burkholder, who is basically reproducing the Asberger’s-afflicted character he portrayed for years as the son of Peter Krause and Monica Potter on NBC’s Parenthood.
On Purge day, Charlie sees a seemingly innocent man on the street (“The Stranger”) crying for help and disables the Sandin home security system to let him in. Unfortunately, The Stranger is the target of some Purgers (pictured) who want to rid the streets of the homeless scourge. The gang is a third-rate version of the droogs in A Clockwork Orange and speaking of colors, Ethan Hawke is similarly complected (stay outta the tanning booth sir, or you’ll resemble an irradiated pylon).
And The Stranger blows a monotonous one-note, rather than occupying a fully-formed character. But we’re supposed to root for him because he’s homeless, and against Mr. Sandin because he’s an ambitious salesman.
Ultimately though, what drags down The Purge is sheer boredom…we’ve reviewed projects by indie filmmakers who’d kill for a $3 million production and this one looks incredibly cheap, with run-of-the-mill blue cinematography and clunky set pieces.
**1/2 (out of 5)