UNIVERSAL PICTURES (2013)

Director: James DeMonaco

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Rhys Wakefield 

It’s 2022, and the United States is now a totalitarian state.

The opening shots of the Purge events set the scene nicely as to where the USA stands during the film, the rich stay protected and the poor fight it out between themselves with the view to eradicate them. It’s a message that is thrown at you for the entire film – the radio phone in’s, the Purge rules, television coverage and obviously the interaction with the snooty intruders who want their lower class prize. As the film moves along to a conclusion, the message turns on its head to see the real ugliness in the Purge lovers.

The movie has a good tone throughout and more so when the movie kicks into life, as the power is (inevitably) cut and the massive house is lit in darkness. The tone is set by the use of sound, there’s no big scores here, just subtle rising notes as the characters make their way through the house, and the sounds of footsteps and crashes. Once the final act begins, the movie becomes slightly more hectic compared to the relative quiet of before, and these scenes are controlled nicely, again with the music being used for dramatic tension as opposed to effect.

Ethan Hawke is OK here as the successful salesman, the man who has equipped his affluent neighbourhood with their security systems and doubled his house size as a result. Neither spectacular nor bad, he does a reliable job. His better scenes come when he is realising his family could be falling apart in front of him, and the challenges that face him. Lena Headey is similar, nothing out of this world, but a solid performance. She gets her chance to shine in the third act and movie finale, where she delivers a convincing performance – the spirit of Cersei Lannister shines through. The Polite Leader was a creepy addition, as the well dressed, well-mannered leader of the gang who will happily kill and maim anyone who crosses him (though I feel his character was underutilised)

Adelaide Kane spends the movie dressed as a schoolgirl, and Max Burkholder could be the most annoying kid actor I’ve seen. Not content with looking like a Hanson castoff, his acting levels went from silent staring to over the top shouting. His ridiculous decisions contributed to the key events of the movie, nonsensical decisions as well. I spent the film waiting for his arse to be Purged.

The set ups were telegraphed from the beginning, with the focus on the poor being Purged with the rich surviving as we are introduced to the rich Sandin family, and their rich neighbours. There is a camera on wheels, which we are smacked in the face with the knowledge that it can be controlled by Charlie in any room, and he can see what the camera sees through special glasses, as well as being told that it’s not been modified so it is silent when it moves, and now has night vision. I guessed we may see more of this through the movie.

There’s nothing particularly new or original throughout the movie – though the home intrusion aspect is always a good tool for thrillers, as it can feel very real. The thought of someone entering your house is terrifying – plus the fact that they want to kill you doesn’t help, added to the fact they’re faceless masked killers (Polite Leader aside) leaves for a chilling encounter. It did remind me of The Strangers (2008) however. The reason behind the motives/ending did leave me slightly unsatisfied also.

The idea behind the Purge is great; the faceless government allows chaos for 12 hours a year in return for jobs and non-existent crime rates – all to make a better America. The acceptance of the event by the media, and the glorification of it is unnerving and excellent at the same time. It drives rational people to become irrational and opens the door for the stories of self reflection.

The Purge delivers a good watch overall, and hits the mark on several occasions, and opens the door for future stories. The leads provide good performances, however the obvious set ups, plus Max Burkholder’s performance detract from the overall experience somewhat.

The movie just survives the WIWT Purge (Burkholder doesn't)

September 22nd 2016

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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