Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder
Director: James DeMonaco
Running Time: 85 mins
The Purge is an American film about a near future in which all crime is legalised for one night every year in order to allow people to ‘purge’ their frustrations, and the one year in which an ordinary family find themselves in real danger.
Although it sounds a little silly at first, I have to admit that I enjoyed this film. With a good premise that’s carried out confidently, and strong performances that further bring you into the world being created before you, it’s both an interesting and tense watch, complete with some rather entertaining cartoonish violence and thrills that work for the majority of the duration, even if they ultimately prove a little tiresome as the film goes on.
Let’s start off with the most striking element of The Purge, the premise itself. Set in a time not far from ours, it centres on an America where all crime is legal for just one night every year, leading to anarchy, violence and chaos for a designated 12 hour period.
That sounds utterly ridiculous and fanciful at first (and it still is by the end), but I have to say I was incredibly impressed with how the film gives context to the concept of ‘the Purge’, portraying it as a positive initiative designed to help the people release their frustrations and contain year-round violence and rage, thereby creating a generally safer and better society for all.
Again, whether or not it’s a concept that has any bearing in the real world is another matter, but what’s great is just how confidently it’s explained and carried out throughout the film, engaging you to the point that you do start to ponder some rather interesting moral dilemmas, as well as some enjoyable concepts to tease the brain throughout.
So, don’t just think this is a film there to create an excuse for mindless violence, because there is context and depth to it that you really wouldn’t expect. What’s more is that the performances, particularly from Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey and Edwin Hodge, give more depth to this concept of the Purge being seen as a positive thing, and the dramatic conflict that arises between their characters in particular is by far the film’s most interesting element, and one that creates good dramatic tension throughout.
Now, having said all that, I do recognise that this film isn’t quite the cinematic masterpiece I’ve been making it out to be. It’s unexpectedly interesting and level-headed, yes, but it does still feature a lot of the same tropes as you would expect, particularly as it moves towards its final act.
At the beginning, there’s mystery and tension as you’re still coming to terms with understanding the Purge in a real-world scenario, and that continues for the best part of 45-50 minutes. After that, however, the movie does take a bit of a dive as it reverts to more ridiculous and generic violence.
I will say that the cartoonish nature of some of the violence and horror is actually another point of enjoyability, but the majority of it does take a lot of focus away from the central story, ultimately proving rather silly and ultimately tiresome as it’s repeated again and again in generic horror-thriller fashion.
Overall, I did enjoy The Purge, and far more than I expected after first hearing its premise. With an entertaining and often even intriguing concept to work with, it proves a genuinely enjoyable and engaging watch for the majority of the story, even though it does ultimately run out of ideas and tension as it reverts to something a little more generic, which is why I’m giving it a 7.4.