There was one of those internet card memes going around that, in essence, said: “I’m looking forward to the Zombie Apocalypse. Then I can go around and shoot all the stupid people.” I think the actual language is more succinct and most likely, a little more colorful but you get the gist. People are looking forward to the day when they can just go around and punish people indiscriminately.
“The Purge” gives us a little insight into what might happen when that day comes.
The year is 2022 and under the guidance of the “New Founding Fathers,” America has undergone a dramatic change with the institution of “the Purge” – a 12 hour period where all laws and emergency services are suspended. Want to murder someone: no problem. Want to burn down a house: No problem. Using a Class 4 weapon: that could be a problem but it’s OK because we never know what a Class 4 weapon is.
After a brief montage of found footage violence (courtesy of the Purge Cam), we meet James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) home security salesman extraordinaire. Having secured the spot of number one salesman, he heads home to do his patriotic duty to hide in his reinforced home with his family while society tears itself apart around him for the next twelve hours. In the home are his wife (Lena Headey), the precocious young son (Max Burkholder) and the rebellious teenaged daughter (Adelaide Kane). Before the sirens starting the Purge sound, the son questions the need for the Purge and the daughter is illicitly making out with her older boyfriend that dad disapproves of. And thus, with the red flags raised, the Purge begins.
“The Purge” is nothing new or special. For the most part, it’s your by the number home invasion thriller. If anything sets it apart, it’s how relevant the topic is. These days, there seems to be an underlying current, a not so subliminal desire to punish those who violate whatever we think is right or appropriate or “the norm.” Social media had given us an almost immediate ability to punish through tweet or meme or status update. It’s not too far of a stretch that imagine that this virtual punishment could – within the next ten year – might lead to actual physical punishment. If nothing else, “The Purge” presents us with this interesting mental exercise – perhaps the only interesting thing about the movie.
Written and directed by James DeMonaco, it’s cliched and predictable, visually and plotwise. A remotely half-alert viewer should be able to piece together the movie within moments of each element that is introduced. Fortunately, the cast does a good job with their parts in this morality play and whoever cast Rhys Wakefield as the lead villain with his leering “the Joker without the makeup” looks deserves a cookie or a raise or both. He helps keep this movie just on the right side of the forgetability index.
“The Purge” introduces a complex, thought-provoking topic and wraps it in cliche and banality. It’s not a crime to make movies like this but who knows – maybe one day.