Dumb and dumber: ‘The Purge’ (2013).

9 Jun

The Purge posterMuch like giving battleaxes to infants or letting lobotomy patients ride motorbikes, stupid things in the hands of stupid people is never a good idea. Since battleaxes look great with a vintage suit of armour, and as any fans of Ghost Rider or Street Sharks could testify to the awesome potential of the motorcycle, the problem lies not in the product themselves; rather, it’s the people who are at fault. While not as catastrophic as either of the above examples, The Purge is a dumb film built on a promising if goofy concept by people who clearly have no idea what they’re doing.

It’s 2022, and or one day a year, in the USA at least, all violent crime is legal. You can sharpen that old machete of yours and hunt down your asshole boss, you and a few buddies could have a few beers and play a real life game of Call of Duty – the possibilities are endless! Officials claim that annual crime figures are down and the economy is booming as a result of this yearly onslaught, but the film hints at the possibility of the whole idea being nothing more than a way to rid the streets of its least productive members of society – a ‘spring cleaning’, as it were.

Enter James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), a businessman who’s made his fortune off of selling home defence systems. The entire neighbourhood is pimped out with his protective wares,  and as a result he now presides in what is basically a palace overlooking his fellow suburbanites. Here he lives with his placid wife Mary (Lena Heady), stereotypically difficult teenage daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and introverted young son Charlie (Max Burkholder). However, it’s quite possible that each actor is actually a painted mannequin or perhaps a robot, as every single character has the personality of a dried squid.

They lock up for the night, and of course things almost instantly take a turn for the worse. Thanks to a series of nonsensical and completely silly events the family is separated, the power is gone and people, both inside and outside the house, want them dead. The Purge is a pants-on-head crazy movie which makes absolutely zero sense, yet doesn’t seem to be aware of this. You’ll want to shake the protagonists and interrogate them on why they don’t behave like human beings, you’ll wallow in your own frustration for each twist being visible from light years away, and, most damningly, you’ll be bored out of your tree.

Ethan Hawke; a great actor wasting his time.

Ethan Hawke; a great actor wasting his time.

Ignoring the wacky concept for a moment, the main problem with this film lies in the script. The Purge is guilty of some of the most brazenly shameless foreshadowing of events in recent memory – which is a tough feat, as virtually all lower-budget horrors commit the same filmic crime. You see a gun in Act 1, so you know it’ll go off in Act 3; a neighbour less than subtly informs Mary that everyone hates them, so it’s hardly a mystery that they’ll show up later… You get the gist. It’s annoying for the viewer, and really telling of a shoddy production.

What comes out of their mouths is almost as dire as what actually happens. The dialogue is atrocious – while we shouldn’t expect Shakespearean levels of dramatic monologues or soliloquies, I’m fairly sure I could have written a better script in Double-Dutch, a language whose existence I’m not even sure of. Each character is inherently unlikeable, the villain(s) are loony but not threatening, and every supposedly “tense” moment, of which there are many, lacks any and all effect as the movie telegraphs each surprise. This film is a mess.

The Purge could have been an interesting film. The premise is philosophically interesting: do we harbour so much pent-up anger that an annual release could be justified? In more talented hands this movie could explore the issue, but as it is The Purge kiboshes any vestige of anthropological introspection by making a sub-par thriller that fails to thrill.

Simon says: ‘survive the night’ by doing something, anything else than seeing this.

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