Movie: The Purge; Director: James DeMonaco; Studio: Universal Pictures; Rating: R; My finding: 2 out of 5 stars.
"The Purge" took home the top box office results this past weekend, debuting with $34.1 million, a surprising profit for a movie with a budget of about $3 million. Perhaps, at least in Minot's case, the fact that the only other movie that opened last week seemed to be a two-hour advertisement for Google ("The Internship") helped to pull in the bucks. Still, besides easy competition, there is very little left to recommend "The Purge" because it's all been done before.
The year is 2022 and the world looks much like our own, with manicured lawns in nice neighborhoods, a nuclear family setup and neighborly chats. Differences are evident, though, because maybe in nine years we'll have slightly different design for, say, our rear-view mirrors. Also, certain industries like security and guns will possibly be in very high demand and could turn an average family in the business to a well-to-do-family.
The Sandins are just such a family. In fact, James, the husband and father played by Ethan Hawke, has made such a purse out of his commissions for selling automated steel-barrier security systems that he was able to afford an additional wing to his already gigantic, stone-built mansion in a high-class, gated community.
For some reason his neighbors, as made evident by one of them who rudely makes a comment to James' wife, Mary (Lena Heady), about the addition, seem to have a deep-seated jealousy that he makes such a commission off of them. For one, this isn't very likely since they are all rich, and for a second point, that's a basic benefit of being a salesman or anybody who makes money: Your money is made from the people who buy your product.
And what a product it is. The premier system sports high-definition cameras all around your house with steel barricades that will lower
over all doorways and windows to prevent intruders from coming in.
With national unemployment at 1 percent and violent crime levels next-to-nothing, the only need is for what begins at 7 p.m. on the day we meet the Sandins.
Based on a decree by the New Founding Fathers (at an unknown period), every year on a certain day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. ALL crimes become legal, including murder. To purge themselves of natural violence and aggression, many talking heads inform us stupidly on the cable news programs throughout the event, we need a day to act on all our violent fantasies.
The talking heads also argue that the day may be unjust in that it targets the homeless or the poor, or anyone who doesn't live in a neighborhood like the Sandins. The talking heads, though, appear to be rather bored by the whole thing, as though they're simply rehashing policy arguments that have been discussed to death.
That's why this film is stupid to be set in such a near future. There is no way that in nine years we will get to a point where we are this comfortable with the vicious murder of thousands or millions of our fellow countrymen. But, apparently, we are. Why James and Mary don't go out murdering, they explain to their fragile son, is because they don't really have a need to do so. They still put out the blue flowers yearly, to signify their support for the program.
They'll learn, that night, to regret that support when their perfect world comes crashing down. That same son decides he feels like helping a hunted man and the hunting party, all with a bloodlust to cut out those they feel are less than they are (rich, successful, well-educated and decently attractive, we assume, although the only unmasked member is their leader, played by Rhys Wakefield) want him back.
Social commentary is at the forefront here, but it's neither well done or original, as I said before.
The two movies that constantly went through my mind while watching "The Purge" yes, the film didn't grip me enough for me to not have things running through my mind were the 2008 remake of "Funny Games," another home-invasion-with-murderous-intent film, and 1971's brilliant, Sam Peckinpah-directed "Straw Dogs." It's easy to see that director James DeMonaco was heavily influenced by both films, but failed to do them proud.
I'll be the first to hate on "Funny Games," because it is a brilliant piece of social commentary about violence and media influence on our world (a quieter version of 1994's "Natural Born Killers," at least in message) up until the point it falls off the rails with a ridiculous, stupid gimmick that negates the entirety of the preceding film. Still, at least it tried something new.
That's not the case with "The Purge."
The only interesting thing is to see Hawke (recently seen as a true-crime writer in the 2012 supernatural horror film "Sinister") finally play someone who isn't a crybaby and a weasel for the first time in my memory. Like Dustin Hoffman in "Straw Dogs," he has to rise above his easy lifestyle to save his family and protect his home. The actual fighting sequences are well made, and the home invasion and general idea are fun parts to the film.
It's an entertaining popcorn film, but is too dumb and unoriginal to rise to its pretensions of high-minded satire or social commentary.