Ethan Hawke is someone that I trust in Hollywood. Even if you trace his career back to movies like The Explorers and Dead Poets Society, back when he was just a kid, he always was a good actor and made wise choices with films. Even when he selects bad films to do like Sinister or Assault on Precinct 13 or Daybreakers, I still don't regard him as someone who would make a movie that sucks. Aside from his Oscar-nominated performance in Training Day, he's the King of the '90s with monument films like Reality Bites and Before Sunrise; not to mention his tragically underrated version of Hamlet. However, The Purge is such a bad film that I may need to reconsider that trust.
The Purge is a film premise with so much epic promise! In the not-too-distant future we discover that Americans are an inheriently evil species with savage impulses, so in a rebirth of the country, we allow citizens to commit whatever crime they want in a 12-hour period without any consequences called The Purge. This cleanse frees us up the rest of the year to live completely crime free. The film shows how one family survives the night after their home security system is compromised due to the compassion for a homeless person from their son. This awesome premise for a film feels like an episode of The Twilight Zone or a Ray Bradbury novel but it turns into nothing more than Hollywood slop that never gets into a full boil.
Veteran screenwriter James DeMonaco not only wrote this but took a crack at directing it too. That might have been the mistake since he's only directed one other film before this and it went straight-to-DVD. Perhaps this would've been far better executed in the hands of a seasoned director that would have allowed it to stay as a social statement. It's really too bad that that got lost because it tries to make one. The premises of class warfare, American morality and human jealousy are all attempted to be explored but are quickly dismissed to make way for a boring horror thriller.
The first act of the movie is excellent. It shows the history of The Purge and how wealthy Americans prepare for it; it's celebrated as a holiday. The claustraphobic tension builds as the family enjoys their dinner casually and buckles down for a night where murders are expected all around them, but they're safe because they can afford the best security system and live in a rich part of town. As soon as the first half hour comes to an end, the movie spirals out of control and never recovers. Loose ends are allowed to exist. Unrealistic decisions are made. Audience frustrations run high. Nothing is scary nor shocking and in a movie where the remaining 50 minutes depends on that, you're left with a rather boring film.
The Purge feels like a fantastic short story or episode of a horror showcase television show that Hollywood producers consumed and vomitted it back up as this final product. I want to believe that that's what happened but when it's only one person who wrote the script and was then allowed to direct it too, I simply can't. It's too bad this movie will drift into the sea of forgetability because some fan fiction based on its premise would be really interesting to read and way more entertaining. The Purge (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: D+