As a social allegory, “The Purge” is about as subtle as Hulk Hogan being interviewed by Mean Gene Okerlund. This movie slaps you across the face again and again with its statements on class divisions in America, the flaws with our media outlets, and our cultural obsession with violence. Despite this rather large flaw, however, “The Purge” is not a half-bad movie, with a decent plot, and enough suspense to warrant a viewing.
By now you probably know the story. The year is 2022, and after a massive economic crash America has rebuilt itself to be something like a utopia, so we’re told. The reason for this turnaround? The new government leaders have decreed that on the evening of March 21 every year, for twelve hours, any crime can be committed with no consequences. Any vendetta can be settled, any aggression taken out on someone. It is through this purging of our more violent and prurient urges that we become better people, they say.
The film begins late afternoon on March 21, just before the Purge is set to begin. We meet James Sandin, played by Ethan Hawke. Sandin sells high-end security systems, and has gotten quite wealthy off of them. He and his family live in an exclusive, gated neighborhood where the problems of the Purge seem a million miles away. When the bell rings and the evening begins, they lock down the house and settle in. But as you can probably guess, things go awry. It starts when Sandin’s teenage daughter Zoey (played by Adelaide Kane) has a surprise guest. Then Sandin’s son goes out to help a homeless man who is running from some preppy hooligans.
The last third of “The Purge” really picks up the suspense, as the Sandin’s protected home gets invaded. Little of these scenes are new or original, but writer/director James DeMonaco does a solid job keeping viewers interested. Also, the performances are good enough to keep “The Purge” chugging along, Hawke plays his typical brooding role but it works here. And Lena Headey (“Game of Thrones”), who plays Hawke’s wife, is always a joy to watch. I did find the performance of Rhys Wakefield who plays main baddie Henry to be a bit over the top, however. He seemed to be channeling King Joffrey with longer hair, and it didn’t work so well.
Despite the interesting suspense, there were a couple plot holes that I just couldn’t stop from creeping into my brain. For instance, if the film takes place in 2022, are we really to believe that in nine short years America would suffer a massive depression and then the culture would change so drastically as to justify these acts of violence? Setting the film 100 years in the future, even fifty, would have made more sense. In addition, DeMonaco’s attempts for “The Purge” to be some grand statement on so many of society’s ills, but he seems to try too hard and falls flat. Not so flat that you won’t enjoy the movie, just be prepared to roll your eyes a couple times throughout the film.