Some ideas are probably too brilliant to ever feel their true potential on-screen. They can be so good that when you try to tell some sort of story with that idea as the central basis, you find that it never really lives up to the initial potential. Novels don’t struggle with this as much but movies can really suffer from it. The Purge is one such movie.
The central concept, of a one night, lawless, every-man-for-himself “purge” to release all of America’s inner demons, leading to murder and massacre on a huge scale, is one that is ripe with opportunity and creative scale. It could easily be a story about one victim, trying to survive the night or even a man and his family, attempting to escape the city during this nightmare evening. The one idea that doesn’t instantly spring to mind the “home-invasion” concept, bottling the whole story and movie into one (albeit large) house.
As you watch though, the reasoning behind this idea becomes apparent. It doesn’t have to be a large-scale, epic story of triumph or horror. The idea of the Purge can work with four central characters and a whole host of nasty, unhinged individuals.
The movie does a good job of introducing and establishing the central family very quickly. The obnoxious father, played ably but somewhat lazily by Ethan Hawke, the passive but strong mother, demonstrating another great performance from underrated actress Lena Heady and the two, somewhat stereotypical kids, the awkward loner son and the obnoxious teenage daughter. They aren’t the most likable of characters but they do the job when the main hits of the story begin, sometimes forcing you to wonder what choices you would make.
It approaches the plot from a very clever angle. Beginning as a passive witness to the events rather than completely involved and central to it puts you slowly at ease but never comfortable. The family is safe but once an intruder is allowed into their “fortress,” their safe-haven soon becomes their nightmare and the movie begins to find some life. When it introduces the masked assailants from all the marketing material, the tension kicks up a gear and the family are forced to make questionable decisions and drastic actions.
That is where the movie’s strength lies. It’s not about the horror, because the movie is never that scary and it certainly isn’t with the action, because any home-invasion movie offers very similar scenes, but more with the central decision that Hawke’s character is forced to make – “What will you do to protect your family?”
It is a message that has been seen hundreds of times before but on the back of a concept like The Purge, it adds an extra depth and also offers some more surprises down the line that you can predict but never really understand. In fact, that becomes the main issue with the movie overall, it never really offers enough new material.
The concept of The Purge is a fantastic one. It’s used brilliantly here but strip the film down to its bare bones and it becomes a very familiar, predictable movie that offers very little that is new or original, which is a shame considering its opening and the idea that the whole idea hangs on.
What it does offer is done very well though and I do hope that it ultimately leads to sequels that develop the original premise. The Purge idea is one ripe with lots of different material and could escalate very quickly, into different movies of many different kinds.
Overall, The Purge is a fantastic, original idea that ultimately becomes a “home-invasion” movie. It has some great moments and really thought-provoking ideas but is let down by a predictable, run-of-the-mill story that has been done many times before, often better. It still has potential though and could lead to bigger and better things if taken in the right direction.
Rating – 3
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