Directed by: James DeMonaco
Written by: James DeMonaco (screenplay)
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane
James DeMonaco’s The Purge is the worst American film since last year’s remake of Red Dawn. It is so filled with self-righteous indignation that its sadistic morality somehow manages to be worse than the sloppy filmmaking. There wasn’t a single competently shot sequence in the entire movie, and any adrenaline jolt it manages to produce happens by accident.
The story centers around the Sandins, a wealthy white family that you’ve seen on almost every 30 minute sitcom; father brings home the bacon, mother tends house, the teenage daughter is a rebel and the young son is weird. Ethan Hawke happens to play that father, and there a few times when he convincingly renders a character almost out of sheer force of will.
Like Before Midnight, The Purge focuses on one day and night in his character’s life. In a futuristic dystopia, the “New Founding Fathers” give Americans 12 hours a year to commit any crime they want. The son (Max Burkholder) lets in a homeless black man after their house has already been “locked down,” and the white supremacist preps that were chasing him form an all-out assault to kill both him and the Sandins.
There are hints at a political message, like how this “purge” is used to target the homeless and “cleanse” the streets. It is a thin ideological veil for the sadism that follows, though, which has the Sandins duct taping the man and stabbing him with a letter opener to get him to cooperate. These scenes are done in jittery close-up, all the better to see the carnage.
Of course the real thrill of the movie, if you can even call it that, is supposed to happen when the baddies get inside. The Sandins decide they’re going to fight back now that they’ve met a real, live homeless man up close. DeMonaco shoots their mansion in such a spatially incoherent way that it’s impossible to tell where they are in relation to each other, or where they are at all. Instead of simply crosscutting between separated family members, he shows each one dealing with the killers separately, yet somehow the gunshots don’t echo through the house and then they all magically bump into each other at the main stairwell.
It didn’t seem like it could get worse after an hour of that, but the “twist” at the end somehow accomplished that. By the credits, The Purge had projected so much fear-mongering and hate toward the audience that plot holes and poor editing were the least of my problems with it. It is an inherently evil film that tries to wax philosophical and justify its own love for blood by attempting to be a cautionary tale about how your neighbors are evil and out to get you because you did better than them.