June 6th, 2013 | by CURTIS WOLOSCHUK Movies & Television | Posted In: Movie Reviews

A Binge of Bad: The Purge Reviewed

thepurge
The Purge screened after WW press deadlines. A recommendation from critic Curtis Woloschuk: Don't binge on this dreck.

Critic's Grade: C-

It seems that giving America a “freebie” was the answer all along.

Writer-director James DeMonaco's speculative thriller The Purge unfolds in a near future—March 21, 2022, if you want to add it to iCal—where politicians have stopped blathering about traditional values and have chosen instead to take their lead from more open-minded couples. Just as otherwise monogamous spouses will allow one another a one-night stand without repercussions, so too have the “New Founding Fathers” designated 12 hours a year during which all crime—including murder—is legal. Boasting its own tagline (“Release the beast!”), this annual cathartic “Purge” has left the country practically crime-free for the remaining 364 days a year.

It's also left some enterprising individuals incredibly wealthy. For instance, James Sandin (an unnervingly clean-shaven Ethan Hawke) has made a fortune opportunistically hocking security systems to the panicked residents of his gated community. Living in a suburban palace with his wife Mary (Lena Headey) and teenagers Zoey (Adelaide Kane, at whom Jacques Jouffret's camera leers) and Charlie (mini Jack White lookalike Max Burkholder), James plans on spending a cozy Purge at home, watching the chaos on television.  

When a gang of masked marauders (headed by preening Rhys Wakefield) arrives on their doorstep looking to raise hell, James is forced to confess that the defenses he peddles weren't designed for a “worst case scenario.” Likewise, The Purge's dubious foundation can't withstand much scrutiny. This is particularly problematic as DeMonaco misguidedly devotes significant time to reiterating the film’s premise in the vain hope that it will somehow become more plausible. (Imagine if John Carpenter had dedicated 30 minutes of Escape from New York to convincing us that turning Manhattan into a maximum-security prison made perfect sense.) Belaboring the set-up also serves to underscore the flimsiness of DeMonaco's attempts at social commentary.

While rarely recognized for it, David Lynch has proven himself to be the American master of the home invasion film, with Twin Peaks, Lost Highway and Inland Empire all serving as harrowing illustrations of the abject horror that arises when a stranger suddenly corrupts a sanctum. In The Purge, the family home has already been perverted by its owners and transformed into a veritable fortress. Consequently, having Wakefield and his lackeys interminably orbit the Sandin compound like kids loitering at a convenience store fails to prey upon viewers' primal fears or generate much in the way of suspense.

When the defenses inevitably fall and a siege ensues, the melees that follow are perfunctory and poorly staged. Despite the family’s sprawling residence, the action is inexplicably confined to a handful of rooms, wasting the opportunity for anxiety-inducing cat-and-mouse games. The tendency of the supposed predators to woefully underestimate their would-be prey also proves a frustration. However, far more irksome is the low regard DeMonaco displays for his audience throughout the film. Content to simply go through the motions, he neglects to release the beast, leaving The Purge a sheep in Straw Dogs' clothing.
 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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