Trying hard to be more than just the sum of its parts, The Purge is a horror that sets out an interesting premise, builds well and then, unfortunately, forgets to scare, shock or thrill.
Set in a very near future, crime is at an all time low due to the ‘New Founding Fathers’ assigning one day a year for The Purge. On said day all laws are lifted, emergency services suspended and for twelve hours anything goes. So you are free to kill, maim, rob, rape and pillage to your heart’s content without fear of punishment.
This has worked out especially well for James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) who has just cemented himself as the best in the business at implementing methods to secure your home from any nasty people looking to purge you and your loved ones. On the night of The Purge, James settles in with wife Mary (Lena Headey), rebellious daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and son Charlie (Max Burkholder) safe in the knowledge their house is a fortress. But when Charlie spots a wounded man on the CCTV cameras he denies a group of masked killers their right to purge the world of the poor fellow and soon the family find themselves under siege.
With an interesting premise and a solid sub genre of horror in the shape of home invasion to tap in to, The Purge tries hard to make a point. The short version of which being that the annual cull seems to favour the rich in order to wipe out the poor. It’s all very much the 1% against the rest. Hawkes’ James bares an uncanny resemblance to Wall Street’s Gordon Geko making the attempted occupation of his home all the more political. Of course while they may be financially rich they’re morally broke. But the message is soon forgotten and ignored in favour of below par thrills and CGI blood which never convinces.
The main problem is once the action kicks into gear it all feels generic and done before. So the power is cut-off, leaving the family scrabbling around in the dark. And despite how impenetrable this house supposedly is the film is happy to change the rules in order to facilitate a good killing. For all the millions James has made from securing houses you suspect his customers might demand a refund if they saw that all it took to gain entry was a sturdy chain and a pick-up truck, things which are presumably still readily available in this immediate future.
Lacking the grit of say a Straw Dogs or the fun of this year’s rather brilliant You’re Next The Purge feels tired and often too pedestrian. Despite a third act that goes some way to rectify many misgivings, The Purge never satisfies as a good cleanse should.