Director: James DeMonaco
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Heady, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge
Running time: 85 minues
In the not too distant future, America has come up with an idea that has reduced crime and unemployment to an all-time low: an annual purge where, for twelve hours, one day a year, all crime is legal. When Charlie (Burkholder) supplies refuge to the target of a “purge party”, he brings a whole night of hell down on his family (Hawke, Heady & Kane).
The premise to DeMonaco’s second stint as director is, for all intents and purposes, ludicrous. The idea that gifting people with the chance to cleanse their souls of all their hatred and pent-up aggression will somehow make the world (or rather, America) a better place is ridiculous – as well as a bit terrifying – and in reality, all this “purge” would do is create a happy hour for criminals, and possibly, as the film suggests, create hatred in people where normally there would be none. The most depressing thing about the film (and it is depressing) is that idea that there’s a murderous hatred in all of us; something which I can’t abide to. However, that being said, it’s a great set-up for a film.
I was worried for the first half hour or so (which is pretty much the first half; it’s a short movie) that it was going to be a good idea badly executed. The script, also written by DeMonaco, laces on the idea too thick, giving the impression that he’s so proud of it that he has to keep reminding us of what is it, and many of the introductions to characters leave too little to be desired, in that we can tell just what’s going to happen with them by the end. There’s also an issue with the slightly dull and unimaginative dialogue, which only gives us the very bare minimum of what needs to be said, probably due to the fact that DeMonaco seems more interested in the set-pieces of the second and third acts than the slow set-up of the first.
She could do with having Liam Neeson on the phone
Yet once we get to those set-pieces, things begin to mold together nicely into a neat, tense little thriller. The tension is built and maintained really well, with some good scares coming interspersed with high-octane action and a finale of full of gut-curdling thrills. It doesn’t escape entirely from silly character decisions like not switching a torch off when there’s someone in the room looking for them, or leaving their back exposed in a dark hallway instead of just sitting in a corner with a gun, but they’re pretty standard horror tropes that are rarely overcome.
The cast is good for the most part. Ethan Hawke is great, as ever, and Lena Heady unusually likeable in a rare protagonist role. Max Burkholder is also pretty good as the younger kid, but my god is that character annoying. Everything he does is stupid. Just stupid. He does so many stupid things that he makes Mr. Stupid Stupington from the land of Stupidsville look clever. I got to a point where I just couldn’t give him any sympathy whatsoever, and what made it even worse was that he never gets in trouble for any of his actions. Everything is his fault, literally the whole reason everything is happening is because of him, but he doesn’t once even get shouted at. It was all I could do not to scream at him myself.
Even if it’s a little exaggerated, the message about America’s gun culture is palpable, and I’d even go so far as to call it propaganda. As a film it leaves you feeling depressed and untrustworthy of everyone around you, but at least it makes you feel something, strongly, and in my mind that’s sort of an achievement.