Film review: The Purge

This review contains spoilers.

It’s the year 2022, and America has returned to economic strength and domestic peace.  Unemployment is at 1%. Poverty has nearly been eliminated.  Crime is almost unheard of, except on one day of the year which the New Founders have established so that everyone can vent their latent hatred and bigotry without consequence … except on select government officials, of course.  The rest of America can “purify their souls” through 12 hours of mayhem, murder, and anarchy known as The Purge.  It’s big business for James Sandin and his family, but this year, the purge hits very close to home … literally.

In the hands of a more talented director and screenwriter, The Purge might have made for interesting social satire.  In the hands of James DeMonaco, who both directed and wrote the film, it’s about as subtle as a jackhammer welded to the grill of a Mack Truck speeding at the viewers at 95 miles an hour. Phineas and Ferb (an excellent children’s cartoon, if you haven’t seen it) has more subtlety and wit than The Purge. From the hoary and dully predictable slasher-film action, to the scenery chewing from the main villains, and finally to the Sarah Palin-esque masks that some of the purgers inexplicably don for their antics, it’s as derivative and intelligence-insulting as it is didactic and wholly uninteresting.

Basically, this is a film in which the rich slaughter the poor in order to end unemployment and poverty, and hope that the poor don’t slaughter them first.  You don’t get to discover that through clever dialogue and plot lines; DeMonaco makes sure you hear it in the opening minutes from a talk-radio show.  As the Sandins prepare to lock themselves down in their huge McMansion, Stepford Neighbor (Areija Bareikis) shows up to act out a passive-aggressive skit with Mary Sandin (Lena Headley) so that you know she’ll be back to settle a score.  Mary’s husband James (Ethan Hawke) makes too much money for their friends, which Stepford Neighbor makes strangely clear to her supposed friend Mary on the eve of the Purge.  Mary seems a bit too dense to figure this out.

The fun really starts when the purge begins. James locks down the house but doesn’t realize that his daughter Zoey’s (Adelaide Kane) boyfriend has stowed away with murder on his mind.  Henry (Tony Oller) doesn’t last long anyway, and the story line exists only so that DeMonaco can offer viewers a couple of long, creeping shots up Adelaide Kane’s legs all the way to her Japanese-schoolgirl miniskirt in makeout scenes. Sandin’s son Charlie lets in a homeless Purge victim (Edwin Hodge) crying for help, which displeases a whole gang of wealthy and deranged Purgers, led by Rhys Wakefield, apparently voted Most Likely To Go Psycho at his prep school.  Wakefield chats with James on occasion, offering bon mots like “Send out the homeless filth, hee hee!”, just in case you haven’t gotten the point.

On top of all this subtlety, everyone says, “Blessed be the New Founders! Blessed be the new America!” just in case you haven’t figured out that it’s Christianity that tells people to cleanse their souls by murdering the poor.  Funny, I’ve studied the Bible and theology for quite a while now, and have seen many faith-based organizations proving food, shelter, clothing, and health care to the poor. I guess James DeMonaco saw Contact once and figured he knew what religion was really all about.  The better-living-through-sacrificing-inconvenient-human-life model bears a lot more resemblance to pro-abortion apologias, but it would take a brave and innovative Hollywood filmmaker to make that argument, and DeMonaco is neither.

Even all of this might be tolerable — well, not tolerable, but salvageable — if the action was fresh.  Instead, your average 10-year-old will be sophisticated enough to see the telegraphed punches coming.  Purgers do everything but monologue when they have kill shots at the ready, providing enough time for someone else to shoot them.  Wakefield actually does monologue before taking his kill shot; the only thing missing is the Snidely Whiplash nyah-ah-ah! And guess who ends up saving the Sandins from the neighbors who only kill off the other Purgers because they want the Sandin scalps for themselves?  If you don’t have that figured out as soon as Charlie lets in the homeless man, well, I hope you enjoyed making The Purge the first movie you ever saw.

Frankly, it’s one of the most ridiculous and ignorant films I’ve seen in a very long time.  I’d have to put this up there (or more appropriately, down there) with the remake of The Andromeda StrainAnd yet, even with that, I still have the sneaking suspicion that it might be better than Internship, which also opened this weekend.

On the 5-point Hot Air scale, I give this a solid 1:

  • 5 – Full price ticket
  • 4 – Matinee only
  • 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
  • 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
  • 1 – Avoid at all costs

It’s not even fun enough to watch for giggles over how bad it is. In fact, I’d suggest that anyone who watched this nonsense will spend several days attempting to purge themselves of the memory.

The Purge is rated R for graphic violence, including a brief torture scene, plenty of blood, and some bad language.  It’s not for children …. or anyone else with a brain.

Addendum: There is one unintended irony about this, of course.  The setup for The Purge is that it ostensibly allows for a more peaceful America by providing a catharsis for violence, but really just enriches the already-privileged.  Of course, Hollywood likes to claim that violent films like The Purge allow for the same kind of catharsis rather than encourage violence, while the DeMonacos of that community get wealthy from it.  Maybe someone in Hollywood should make a film about that.

Update: Via Instapundit, John Hawkins of Right Wing News had a better time at the film:

I agree that as a cautionary tale about gun ownership, it fails as badly as it does in every other area … but that’s as far as I’ll agree with John in this case.

Also, I can’t believe that I didn’t think about the similarity between this film and the Star Trek episode “Return of the Archons,” but some of our commenters are quicker to that punch than I was.