Writer/director James DeMonaco's The Purge instantly obtained viewers' attention with its intriguing concept. The idea alone will have audiences thinking what they would do if our society created such an event. Even though the idea is similar to that of an episode of Star Trek called "The Return of the Archons," which in turn was inspired by Philip Jose Farmer's novel Night of Light. Regardless of the concept's history, it could make for an intense thriller on the big screen. If executed correctly, it could have become one of 2013's best heart-pounding pictures thus far. I have been anticipating this picture's arrival for quite some time now. Unfortunately, this isn't the movie I thought it would be. Instead of being an intense and entertaining thrill ride, it's merely a disappointing flick that will leave audiences rolling their eyes.
In the year 2022 in the United States, the government has created an event called "The Purge" in order to reduce crime for the remainder of the year. For a 12-hour period, any and all crime is legalized. All emergency and law enforcement services are suspended during this period of time. Many people hunt other humans and riot in order to release their hatred and anger, while others lock themselves in their homes to keep safe. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) and his family are on lockdown. After a homeless man in need of aid comes along, the youngest child, Charlie (Max Burkholder), disarms the security system in order to let him in. A group of insane killers tell the family that if they don't give them the homeless man alive, then they will break in and kill everybody.
With such a solid concept, one would imagine that it would be taken advantage of. Unfortunately, writer/director James DeMonaco keeps us locked in a house with the Sandin family for the entire running time. This would have been a much more captivating piece of filmmaking if it was on a bigger scale and explored what happens during "The Purge." Transforming this into a home invasion flick is a huge mistake. During the first fifteen minutes or so of the feature's running time, the film amuses as it should with some general explanations of the annual event. Once the security system is armed, the movie's dull nature begins to show. There isn't a single likable protagonist to be found. The family's decisions are incredibly unbelievable. Regardless of what year it is, no one would make a lot of the decisions that are made. The dumbest of the bunch are the two children. Charlie Sandin and his older sister, Zoey (Adelaide Kane), are outrageously irritating throughout. Constantly running away from their parents, regardless of the danger that's constantly lurking throughout the house. The characters' actions only get more aggravating as the feature continues.
DeMonaco tries his hardest to make this movie scary, but it doesn't work very well. Not only does he fail to scare moviegoers, but it lacks tension or any type of shock. Every major plot point is predictable, which makes for a rather dull moviegoing experience. The story itself has ties to social commentary about class and racial divides, although it's superficial. These issues are lightly discussed by those on the TVs around the house and the injured homeless man happens to be African American. Otherwise, DeMonaco abandons this portion of the film in order to focus on the family walking around in the darkness with flashlights. We know exactly when the writer/director is trying to scare his audiences, but it comes across as more of a cheap attempt to make audiences jump at sudden motion occurring on screen. The thought of not being safe in your own home is one of the scariest notions, yet The Purge still manages to fall flat.
The Purge clearly has a lot on its mind, although it keeps itself quiet. All of the fascinating routes that could have been explored are simply ignored. DeMonaco keeps the motion picture on such a minuscule scale with such a small amount of information on "The Purge" itself, that it has absolutely no chance of being identified on its own terms. There are far too many moments that are familiar from other features in the genre, such as The Strangers. The only difference is that there isn't a single scene that expresses tension or fear throughout. It uses its absorbing concept in order to draw audiences in, but it's nothing more than a backdrop. There was so much potential that has ultimately led to so much disappointment.
With such annoying characters, the actors didn't have much of a chance to shine. Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey are fine in the roles of James Sandin and Mary Sandin, respectively. However, the material greatly hinders the performances. Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane aren't the problem either. However, none of them are able to make us care for these roles. Since the characters consistently make so many stupid decisions, audiences will never find themselves rooting for any particular group of people. By the time the credits are rolling, the acting will be the least of your concerns.
Motion pictures within the horror genre are famous for their visuals. Filmmakers generate fear through the cinematography and sound design. The Purge gets its closest to being scary with its visual design. The color palette works nicely and there is some decent camerawork. The masks worn by the intruders are excellent, even though they aren't used to their full potential. Otherwise, the film believes in loud jolting sounds over genuine tension. Nearly all of the typical jump scares are present, such as the old "refrigerator door" scare. There are some worthwhile visuals, but it doesn't make up for the screenplay.
Writer/director James DeMonaco had a variety of different directions he could have taken this interesting concept. It offers social commentary and it could have made for a thrilling moviegoing experience. Unfortunately, he wasted the opportunity by using it as a simple backdrop to a disappointing home invasion flick. The characters constantly make some of the dumbest decisions you'll ever witness on the big screen, making them entirely unsympathetic. There's a severe lack of tension and fear present throughout this picture's running time. The Purge accomplished the feat of transforming a seemingly thrilling film into a dull, yet aggravating one. Skip it.