The Purge is based on the ridiculous premise that in order to curtail unemployment, poverty and violent crime America has become a new nation where, once a year, the citizenry is allowed to commit any crime they choose in a 12-hour period, including murder. This notion is just silly. And I think the film knows it because they include commentary in the background on television news programs where some people are against The Purge because it just means those who have money can afford security as well as weapons while the poor, destitute and homeless cannot and they constitute a vast majority of the victims during this night of free crime. Well, duh…
In fact, a few characters later on in the film even explicitly say that one of their intended victims is nothing but a “homeless pig”. That’s pretty telling. So any social commentary you find in this film is bashed over your head constantly in order for them to make their point. However, regardless of the silliness of the premise, the suspense in the film is actually pretty well done even though most of it is the result of characters acting stupidly for no apparent reason. I mentioned lazy writing in an earlier review and said one of the symptoms of lazy writing is that characters will do something completely out of character just so the plot can progress and conflict can ensue. That is par for the course in The Purge.
It’s not all bad however. Like I said earlier, the suspense is good. The acting is great, especially by Ethan Hawke (Gattaca) and Lena Headey (Dredd). And I gotta say, the casting in this film for the antagonists was pretty much perfect. I have a feeling the casting call read something like this: “WANTED: 18-22 year old actors and actresses for suspense thriller. Looking creepy as **** a plus!” The cinematography was good too using security camera footage to increase the suspense at key moments.
Overall, I would say the film is a pretty fun ride. I personally didn’t find it scary, but the primarily teen-to-twenties audience I saw it with did seem to scream a lot and when there was a particularly gory incident the crowd did seem to get a bit unsettled by it. If you’ve read my Evil Dead review you should know that I relish that kind of stuff and though there wasn’t a lot of gore, the gorehound inside of me felt pretty satisfied given the fact that I really wasn’t expecting much of it at all in this film, regardless of the advertised subject matter.
There was also a very fun, darkly comical scene near the end of the movie that was probably my favorite part of the film. In fact, it was after that scene happened where I realized that this film does sort of suffer from a personality disorder. The first act feels like it’s trying to be a social commentary; the second act, a taut suspense thriller; the third act was sort of an action movie with a few bits of dark humor thrown in. If they had just chosen one of those to focus on for the whole film, I think it could’ve ended up as a far better movie. I do think the film is worth seeing, but perhaps not at full price. I would say it’s worth a matinee price or wait for home video.