Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Purge Has a Good Idea and Not Much Else: A Movie Review

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Director/writer: James DeMonaco.

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, and Rhys Wakefield.

The Purge has a great premise. In the future, unemployment and poverty are solved through murder. Each year, for 12 hours, American citizens are allowed to murder, rob, rape and pillage their neighbour, to their heart's content. Yet, director and writer James Demonaco's script and film never utilizes the premise's full potential. Instead, The Purge is like your ordinary indie horror title: predictable and underdeveloped.

The story has been partially relayed. To expand, The Purge focuses on the Sandin family: James (Ethan Hawke), Mary (Lena Headey), Charlie and Zoey. Each year, the Sandins settle into their fortified abode, to wait out the yearly purging of citizens. This year they are not as lucky as previous ones. A homeless man finds shelter in their spacious residence and a local group of maniacs come searching for him. The Sandins are faced with a moral dilemma; should they give up the homeless man and save themselves, or protect him against the mob outside? What would you do?

The film's premise is a good one. The future is bleak and the purge allows the poor and downtrodden to be eliminated from society. This is a picture about class warfare. But, the distinction between the rich and the less wealthy is not really explored in any depth. Also, the homeless man, who represents poverty, is only given a few lines and a few scenes. As well, the premise rarely leaves the confines of the Sandin residence. The chaos that would be taking place country wide is only alluded to in a few early and grainy video images. Where is the chaos? That chaos is limited to a few tense scenes near Act III.

The limits of production seem to have hampered the development of the film's premise. The budget of $3 million did not allow for elaborate sets, or, even, exterior shooting. Almost all of the film relies on one setting, the Sandin home. Also, there are few characters here. The central characters are Mary and James. But, a few minor characters make their way into the film by the mid-point. There are a few violent scenes and The Purge is over, before you know it. This film, with the described elements, plays out much like a mediocre indie horror title. It could have gone so much farther, with the right budget, or will.

There are a few film elements to like in this title and a few that are lackluster. The pacing is consistently upbeat. The film moves ahead at a quick clip, with story elements also moving ahead with urgency. The acting from the cast is mostly consistent. Only the main villain seems to have taken a few overacting classes. The moral questions and dilemmas are interesting, but they are only touched upon. In addition, the film is predictable at times, especially the ending. Most viewers will see how the final scene plays out a long time before it does. And, the film is disappointing, overall.

The Purge has already released in theatres to large turnouts. The film has also made a considerable profit, but this thriller comes across as average or above average, at best. The premise is lightly explored and it never reaches any truly chaotic levels. Perhaps, a sequel is needed to fully flesh out the story from DeMonaco. The one here has been reduced to such a point that it loses any sense of grandness.

Overall: 6.75 out of 10 (more conflict needed between class and race, the story steers clear of controversy).

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