Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Heady, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Rhys Wakefield, Edwin Hodge
Running time: 86mins
The lowdown: Blumhouse Productions, the team behind the Paranormal Activity series, Sinister and Dark Skies, stick to their tried and tested formula with another budget conscious imperiled family shocker. In 2022, America has solved its crime problem with “the Purge”, one night a year when all law is suspended and citizens are allowed to indulge their darkest desires; bad news for dad Ethan Hawke, protecting his family from marauding thugs. A Twilight Zone idea is seasoned with extract of Straw Dogs and A Clockwork Orange in a thriller whose intriguing premise would have benefited from a larger injection of cash.
The full verdict: For one moment it seems as if Blumhouse are going to ditch the housebound endangered family horrors with which they’ve scored profitable hits.
The Purge’s ambitious plot begs to be let outside to see how regular people would behave if all law was rescinded for twelve hours, particularly in the good-old gun-totin’ US of A.
Disappointing to report then that the guys at Blumhouse choose to let most of the action happen off screen in a movie that once again uses big name actors (Ethan Hawke and Lena Heady) to disguise the fact this is another largely single location movie.
That single location is the Sandin house, with home security exec James (Hawke) facing a lethal dilemma when his son grants sanctuary to a homeless black stranger (Hodge).
Unfortunately, the stranger is being hunted by a gang of privileged prep-school scum who besiege the Sandin house, threatening to storm it unless they have their toy back.
Bloody CCTV footage set to Debussy’s Claire de Lune over the opening credits sets the tone for a disturbing take on America’s obsession with violence and caught-on-camera entertainment.
Ethan Hawke follows his performance in Sinister with another interesting troubled lead and a scene when James and his wife Mary (Heady) torture the stranger into submission in front of their horrified children (Burkholder and Kane) is a knockout.
The climactic assault on the house packs several gut-punches of genuine fury as James defends his family against the rich kids led by Rhys Wakefield’s hateful well-spoken psycho, while in the background radio and TV commentators discuss accusations that the Purge is social engineering to eradicate society’s have-nots.
Yet, The Purge is a missed opportunity, with distracting plot holes peppering writer/director DeMonaco’s script.
Why doesn’t super rich home security exec James have a reinforced panic room? Why does he only have handguns to defend his family when automatic weapons are legal? Why hasn’t he invested in bullet-proof vests? Why does the son know the PIN to disarm the security system? And why do the family keep splitting up?
That a large chunk of the 86 minutes is given over to James and Mary searching their house for the stranger is down to budget constraints, but a promising subplot about petty resentments and squabbles turning lethal is demoted to a third act afterthought when it should be the crux of the movie.
Memo to Blumhouse: time to go outside guys.