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article imageReview: ‘The Purge’ rids itself of innovation Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jun 7, 2013 in Entertainment
‘The Purge’ follows one family over the course of single night during which all crimes are legal and they are forced to protect themselves from the brutality that arrives at their doorstep.
Sometimes an interesting concept doesn't result in an interesting movie. It's the ability to expand on the original thought and make a feature-length film that can be problematic. If the filmmaker can't do that effectively, all they've got is a short. The Purge draws audiences in with one big idea, but doesn't deliver a narrative that effectively takes advantage of the theory.
In the year 2022, unemployment in the U.S. is less than one per cent and crime is virtually eradicated. This turnaround is attributed to the government’s decision to make all crime legal for 12 hours, one night a year. Allowing citizens to “purge” themselves of negative emotions has resulted in “a nation reborn.” But when a stranger (Edwin Hodge) arrives on their doorstep asking for help, the Sandin family must decide what their choice will be on this night of violence and destruction. James (Ethan Hawke) is concerned for his family’s safety when a group of masked young people arrive demanding they turn over the man or forfeit their own lives. But he, his wife Mary (Lena Headey) and their children Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder) struggle with the moral ambiguity of trading another person’s life to save their own.
Even though this alternate America proposes a unique (however preposterous) solution, it dispenses a lacklustre interpretation of the actions around this annual event. Beginning in a serene gated community, everyone is compliant with the crime-free-for-all on the horizon because they believe it allows them to preserve this peaceful lifestyle. A radio show asks listeners to call-in with their “purge plans,” which range from staying inside to killing their boss. A talking head explains that humans are inherently violent and the “denial of our true selves is the problem.” But where are the voices of dissent: the protestors, the contradicting experts, the outraged radio callers? Universal acceptance of a policy this extreme is impossible. Also, the focus on murder draws attention from some of the more violating crimes probably being perpetrated that night as well.
The first act attempts to create tension leading up to the crime spree as the Sandins endlessly “prepare” for lockdown, which culminates in the pushing of a button. The threats that emerge are all foreshadowed in the dialogue that precedes it, producing few surprises. The group that gathers outside their secured home will remind many horror aficionados of the trio that tormented the couple in the home invasion picture The Strangers, though the whimsy demonstrated by the female intruders is entertaining.
After a lot of running around in the dark, the violence commences. It’s somewhat primitive as everyone embraces their instincts for survival, but at this point the audience is generally indifferent as to whether anyone makes it out alive (save for the mistreated veteran). Guns of all sizes and blades of different lengths are brandished and applied with varied success. Although, because the Sandins are defending themselves, their embracement of the spirit of the purge remains unclear.
The original story concept was accompanied by the hope that this would be an exciting and/or thought-provoking experience. Instead it takes the easy route, generating a familiar, predictable movie that misses the opportunity to rise above the masses. The occasion for debate is lost in writer/director James DeMonaco’s desire for simplicity.
Director: James DeMonaco
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey and Max Burkholder
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