The Purge has a compelling premise but incompetent execution, honing in on a single family who makes stupid decision after stupid decision before reaching the film’s wholly predictable conclusion. It’s a fundamentally interesting concept: 2022 America, unemployment is at 1%, crime at an all-time low, and it’s because every year, for 12 hours, all crime is legal. The film wants to comment on our society, the innate sadism and rage within human self, but that idea is heavy-handed in the film’s opening moments, with constant reminders of what it all means. Same goes for the “have and have nots” battle, with commentary stemming from rich people locking themselves in every year as others go out to kill the poor that can’t defend themselves.
And while there is a lot of story in theory, the focus on Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey’s family goes woefully dry, with their son acting like an idiot and the daughter consistently hiding from her parents for no logical reason. The film’s second half is filled with some effectively violent scenes, but a lot of times the movie comes across as a pale imitation of Straw Dogs and Funny Games; the film shows a man fighting to the extreme to save himself and the ones he loves, while also reveling in the fact that some people like to inflict pain upon others. Hawke is the strong point, but his character is left to figure out how to handle horrible decision-making. And while there may be a point there, it comes across as bad writing.
The film’s poorly paced, coming in at 85 minutes but feeling like it only really has an hour of actual content. It’s a theoretically smart decision to focus on one element of the annual Purge, but it’s also flawed; I wanted to see more interesting things, like what happens every year in the few days after, or the ones leading up to the event. Those would’ve provided more commentary on human nature, on violence in our society; the film has dark humor, too, but it doesn’t work as a thriller, horror, or even social satire. Instead, it’s overly obvious in its message and inefficient at grounding the characters in any real stakes. It’s a lifeless film.
Grade: ★★ (out of 5)