“The Purge” opens this weekend and is already poised to become one of the most unexpected hits of the year. Made on a budget of just $3 million, the movie earned that much at the box office in midnight shows Thursday (June 6) night. But critics have justifiably torn it to pieces.
Set in the year 2022, “The Purge” takes place in an idyllic future USA where crime and unemployment barely exist. The government tells citizens this is because of the annual “purge” — a 12-hour period that happens once every year where any crime is legal, including murder. There are only two rules: weapons can’t go above a certain level (presumably no nuclear bombs, etc.) and government officials are off limits. Otherwise, all US citizens can do whatever they want to get all their anger, frustrations and hostility out… and then bottle it all up until the next purge.
The concept as presented is problematic for numerous reasons that the filmmakers completely ignore. Instead they attempt to tell a sort of allegorical tale involving a rich family — Ethan Hawke as wealthy security system salesman James Sandin, Lena Headey as his wife and Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane as their kids — who provide refuge for a homeless man (Edwin Hodge) being hunted by a deranged preppie (Rhys Wakefield) and his merry band of masked killers.
A lot of chaos, and very little creativity, ensues. Because this isn’t exactly your average summer movie, we’re breaking down four more things you should know about “The Purge.”
The premise is provocative, but the execution is fatally bland
Why go through the trouble of making a futuristic cautionary tale and raising questions about crime, wealth inequality and mob mentality if you’re not actually going to follow through? “The Purge” has its share of violent death scenes, but its storytelling is completely bloodless. There’s no particular point of view and a disappointing lack of curiosity about the world established in the set-up.
By focusing on one family’s struggle against a band of maniacs, the movie misses a whole lot of tantalizing possibilities (family feuds, disgruntled employees, angry lovers) that could really turn the premise on its head. This is great material for satire, but all writer-director James DeMonaco gives us is another home invasion knockoff that could take place anytime, anywhere.
It’s an unusual bait-and-switch: Instead of luring an audience in with violence and giving them something thought-provoking to go home with, “The Purge” promises interesting ideas but only delivers generic violence.
One way to keep your budget down: hire TV stars
It’s hardly a bad thing that beyond Hawke, “The Purge” is short on traditional “star” power. What’s bad is that the actors don’t have interesting characters to play. Headey is a major player on one of the hottest shows on TV, “Game of Thrones,” and audiences should enjoy seeing her in a role that’s a drastic departure from conniving Queen Cersei.
Burkholder has won acclaim for his role as Max Braverman, a teen with Asperger syndrome, on NBC’s “Parenthood.” And Kane could be a star in the making when her leading role in CW’s Mary Queen of Scots drama “Reign” premieres in the fall. We know they all can do better than the running/screaming/crying one dimensional characters in “The Purge.”
Producer Jason Blum has a thing for houses
Confining all the action to a single location seriously compromises the movie’s limited attempts at world-building (problems that could’ve been overcome with stronger characters, dialogue, themes, etc.), but that’s typical of producer Jason Blum (who actually calls his company Blumhouse Productions). He’s scored box office hits off of horror-thrillers that primarily take place in one house — “Insidious,” “Sinister,” the “Paranormal Activity” franchise — and many of those movies are actually good. But “The Purge” exposes the creative limitations of this approach. Too bad the box office will only encourage more.
At least it’s not a remake
One good thing you can say for “The Purge”: It’s not a remake, sequel or adaptation, which is enough to qualify as original in Hollywood these days. Some movie fans have accused it of ripping off “The Strangers” thanks to an ad campaign that emphasizes home invasion and creepy masks. While others have pointed out the idea of putting a time limit on legalized crime was the plot of 1967 “Star Trek” episode “The Return of the Archons.”
Considering executive producers Michael Bay, Andrew Form and Brad Fuller were previously content churning out remakes of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Amityville Horror,” “The Hitcher,” “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” anything not directly violating our memories of decent horror movies feels like an improvement.
Of course, what’s original today is prime for a do-over tomorrow and it appears that “The Purge 2” is already on the way. At least there’s plenty of room for improvement.