Oh, the high concept movie. In a world filled with generic, derivative premises for generic, derivative films, it can so often be a breath of fresh air that discerning audiences so desperately need. This will of the public to see something they haven’t seen before is reflected in the baffling amount of success The Purge has met at the domestic Box Office this past weekend, now standing as the highest opening for any original R-Rated Horror movie of all time. Between this and Now You See Me, it seems like audiences are still more than ready to embrace originality on the off chance that the end result actually follows through on whatever intriguing premise it offers up. Most of the time that off chance doesn’t pay off, but there are always those special outliers that either soar to the highest heights or sink to the lowest of lows. You may be able to guess which category this particular gem falls into. Proving once again that different isn’t necessarily better, The Purge surrounds its offensively idiotic premise with a set of bland performances and some of the worst writing I’ve seen in years.
The Plot: 2/10
A family is held hostage for harboring the target of a murderous syndicate during the Purge, a 12-hour period in which any and all crime is legalized.
What seriously baffles me is the amount of people who are claiming that the premise of this movie is its most intriguing aspect. I recognize that it’s nice to have a little texturing added to the home invasion frame (which takes up most of the plot here), but you’ve got to be able to do better than this. I’ll probably wind up doing a separate post entirely on my issues with the premise, but the biggest one that I will mention here is that it assumes that the only thing holding most Americans back from unprovoked, remorseless murder is the fear of going to jail afterwards. I recognize the point that we’re a violent species when it comes to the movies we watch and the news we care about, but that doesn’t mean that the majority of the population would start hunting their fellow man when given the slightest chance. As I said, full break-down coming soon.
The Writing: 1/10
My god, I can’t even begin to describe how bad the writing is. Horror movies might not offer up the best examples of fleshed out characters, but that doesn’t mean that the writers have a free pass to completely clock out on the character development process altogether. To be fair, there’s so much dialogue devoted to explaining The Purge itself that there isn’t much space left for much else. That being said, if you’re going to remove all focus on characters and place it upon the construction of your central premise, that premise had better be a damn good one. That’s just not the case here.
However bad the characterization his, the dialogue is worse. Imagine one of those ransom letters with letters from magazines cut and pasted into words. Replace the letters with cliché family dialogue from any movie in the past decade and the ransom letter becomes The Purge‘s script. Things go further downhill once the villains arrive; the main villain is one “Swine” away from becoming the subject of a drinking game. The worst part of the dialogue is when people start talking about The Purge with cultish devotion, revering the “New Founding Fathers” as if they were some sort of second coming. I get the sense it was meant to come off as creepy but it just comes off as silly.
The Acting: 1/10
It’s always hard to watch when good actors give terrible performance. Ethan Hawke seems be becoming one of those fallen few lately, yet for whatever reason he seems to remain devoted to the partnership he’s formed with director Joe DeMonaco (who had previously worked with Hawke on Little New York and Assault on Precinct 13). To be fair, nobody here is given much to work with in the character department, but it’s still sad to see such flat performances from such talented people (Lena Headey, why!). Still, those performances look Oscar-worthy compared to Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane as the Sandin children. The fact that Kane’s biggest claim to fame is her alumni status from Power Rangers: R.P.M. should give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
In the villain arena, you’d normally think that it’d be a good thing for the main bad guy’s face to be even more frightening than the “scary mask” he puts on (think Willem Dafoe in Spider-Man). Somehow, the movie manages to ruin even this aspect of movie-villain wisdom. Rhys Wakefield completely overdoes it on the creepy smile department, coming across not as menacing and dangerous but as if he was just trying to do his best Joker impression. There are a few other awful performances I can’t go into without spoiling one of the big “twists” of the movie, but hopefully you’ll never have to find out what those are assuming you stay far away from this movie.
The Scares: 4/10
The biggest fault people have been finding with this movie is that it devolves into a typical home invasion movie within about half an hour. Honestly, in comparison to my issues with the premise itself, I thought this was the least terrible part of the movie. I know it’s been done before, but I will take a cliché premise done well over an original premise done poorly any day. After the outright boredom of the first half of the movie, I was at least mildly entertained once Ethan stopped talking and started defending his family.
But wait, you might say, doesn’t this preference for the violent aspects of the film just prove its point that we’re a violent people that like violence and other violence-ish things? To that I would say that we as a society only like watching violence when there’s a reason behind that violence. Whether you’re defending your family, avenging a loved one’s death, or any number of other somewhat valid reasons, the audience needs some sort of reason for violence to occur other than “because I feel like it”.
The Verdict: 2.0/10 – A Symphony of Suck
+ It’s only 85 minutes
– The premise makes less and less sense the more you hear of it
– The writing is a cut-and-paste assembly of various clichés
– There is not a single decent performance to be found
Rotten Tomatoes: 41 %
PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews: 6.5/10
The Code is Zeek: 2/5
The Filmster: 2/5
Digital Shortbread: 2.5/10
The Average: 4.6/10 – Sub-Par