The Purge has a great premise, but misses the mark

Imagine a United States of America without crime. Imagine our country with an employment percentage higher than Steve Nash’s career free throw percentage (90.42 percent as of today). Now imagine working in customer service and knowing that for one day out of the year, you could legally murder every cheap, ignorant idiot that stiffs you out of a tip on a $200 bill. The key to this utopian United States with rock bottom crime rates and sky high employment rates is that for one day out of the year any and all crime is legal. You can murder, steal, loiter or even solicit next to “no-soliciting” signs.

That’s the basic premise of James DeMonaco’s “The Purge.” The writer/director explores the consequences of the annual purge day with a fine microscope, singling out the purge experience of the Sandin family. The Sandin family is comprised of never home career-driven father James (Ethan Hawke), shrill and spineless mother Mary (Lena Headey), hot-to-trot daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and 14-year-old weirdo/electronics wiz son Charlie (Max Burdholder). James capitalizes financially on the New Founding Fathers’ Purge law because he’s a salesman of home protection. James is responsible for the home protection for most of his neighbors, and they begin to take notice that their bills are helping to lay new additions onto the Sandin household.

The Sandins opt to stay indoors for the annual purge and barricade their doors and windows with steel shields. They also have video cameras placed about their perimeter so they can keep an eye on things and passively watch victims of violence. Until…

Until son Charlie sees a bloody, homeless man running through the street screaming for help. The boy disagrees with the concept of the Purge, and ignoring the “us-first” mentality of his father, deactivates the family’s barricades and lets the man inside. Why was Charlie left unattended to play with the barricade controls? Ah, because his sister’s boyfriend had hid himself in the house in order to execute a revenge mission that would free Zoey from the parental clutches of James. I don’t want to spoil the details of the boyfriend’s plan, but let’s just say that it’s no accident that he decides to act on Purge Day.

Up until this moment I was okay with the movie. Then the boyfriend acts out against James, the homeless man is allowed to escape into the Sandin mansion (why keep an eye on him, right?) and the family separates. If a strange man was allowed into your house would your first inclination be to run off alone? If not, then you’ve chosen the opposite route of the Sandin family.

At this point, a character listed in the credits as “Polite Stranger” (Rhys Wakefield) arrives at the Sandin residence with a posse in tow. They demand the homeless man being sheltered by the Sandins, referred to as a “pig” or “swine” by the “Polite Stranger.” He promises that if the swine isn’t delivered within the hour that Sandin home will be breeched and everyone inside will be killed.

Unfortunately, the promising premise is about as far as the movie gets. The movie mistakenly focuses on the Sandin family, avoiding an examination of the nationwide effects of what is essentially murder day. How would murder day affect the different social classes? Is this not an open window for an uprising? Bullets could “occupy” the brains of politicians. How would a day where anything goes affect minorities? Would they be able to stand up for themselves against bigoted majorities armed with guns and freedom?

Instead of exploring these ideas, explaining why employment is so high and the psychological effects of a purge day, the movie merely mentions these concepts and settles back into a generic splatter-porn picture. The director DeMonaco limits his movie to haunted house scares, making me doubt that he’s ever watched something like “Cabin in the Woods.” DeMonaco’s movie becomes a formulaic horror movie with characters uttering groan inducing lines while they sprint away from common sense. There is zero excuse for the death of any Sandin family member. Besides being armed to the teeth, their house is equipped with a panic room…that they do not utilize. Add those two details to the way the characters refuse to stay grouped together and you can a movie filled with disappointment. The thrills are cheap, the premise a rouse to get butts in the seats. You can do better, dear movie fan.

1 out of 4 stars

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