This home invasion thriller just fails to deliver
America is a veritable utopia in 2022: unemployment is at one per cent, crime has never been lower and violence barely exists. If you know your classic sci-fi or Spielberg film, this opening premise is likely to transport you to a kind of Minority Report scenario. But you should forget about sci-fi – instead think Assault on Precinct 13 – because here, crimes aren’t eliminated by timely prediction but by a much more psychologically innovative strategy.
One day a year from 7:00AM to 7:00PM, Americans are encouraged by their ‘New Founding Fathers’ (don’t ask) to get all of their frustration out of their systems – to formally purge, cleanse their souls and get back in psychological shape for 364 days of morally sterile, lawful behaviour. They can murder, rob, rape and the rest of it with impunity for twelve hours, then awake unburdened by guilt and get on with their lives – but now without the insufferable neighbours, and loaded with ill-begotten money.
More thriller and carnage than traditional horror, The Purge attempts to give a good hard look at the evil instincts of human beings, but achieves little beyond an awful lot of stabbing, swinging and shooting in a suburban house. It glosses over a million illogical plot holes and is most effective when it is quiet and when the evil streaks are ambiguous or unintended (look out for Burkholder’s character – a chilling mix between mild saintliness and a terrible, drugged lunacy).
Most of the story unfolds inside the Sandins’ home from a few hours before lockdown until the morning sirens announce that social disobedience is once again punishable. James Sandin (Hawke), family man and member of the wealthy one per cent, sells security systems and no night is more important for his company than the annual Purge. As the streets run red, his own house becomes an impenetrable fortress accommodating only his wife (Headey) and two kids, or so he thinks – but it’s a big house.
While we chill at the film’s many uncanny characters and effects – from masks to dolls to children – the night becomes a gruesome reminder that lo and behold, walls will not keep out the beast inside.
The Purge (15)
Dir: James DeMonaco; US thriller, 2013, 85 mins; Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Rhys Wakefield, Max Burkholder
Premiered July 18