The Purge (2013)

  • The PurgeDespite allegory that prevents it from folding under its absurd premise, The Purge is a near failure.
  • At least partially because the actors, save youngster Max Burkholder (Charlie Sandin), do not capture appropriate gravitas. Most of their performances are all rapid gasps, wide eyes and, “See. I’m scared now,” or “Look, I’m CRAAAAAAAAAAY-ZYYYYY,” exaggeration.  Which is not to say that the actors are unwatchably bad; it’s that they all but announce their characters’ experiences and emotions, rather than subtly showing them to us.
  • Writer/director James DeMonaco does much the same. From heavy-handed camera angles, including one from a security camera that distorts dimensions of actors’ faces, to over-obvious dialogue (‘Look what you’re doing. Nothing will ever be okay again’) to a concluding voice over in the style of a talk-show caller (‘This country has taken everything from me’), DeMonaco ensures we remember his allegorical theme, at almost every turn.
  • In some movies, fealty to theme is meritorious, but here it is not, because DeMonaco sacrifices narrative. He never offers explanation for how the United States might accept periodic lawlessness only nine years from now. Nor does he suggest any organized groups oppose The Purge. Insofar as both omissions sacrifice realism, they are problematic.
  • Ditto that for DeMonaco’s character development. The Sandins are thinly sketched archetypes with whom we barely empathize, and the villains aren’t even that well drafted.
  • Then there is this fact: the Bloody Stranger (Edwin Hodge), Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Mary (Lena Headley) all take turns disappearing from the narrative for long stretches, only to reappear again when the plot most demands their presence, for whatever reason.
  • In Zoey and Mary’s case those reasons are constant: we see the female Sandins when DeMonaco needs them to be helpless victims. (That Mary seems independent at the end does not mitigate the flaw, if only because her supposed strength is entirely derived from the Stranger’s military might.)
  • Which is offensive enough, but only gets worse when we consider how The Purge portrays other female characters, all of whom are violently insane. According to The Purge, women are are either weak or psychopaths.
  • Yet, somehow, DeMonaco’s social allegory remains interesting enough that the film is at least marginally thought provoking. For that reason alone, it is not a total failure.
  • Though it is far from good.
  • Final Grade: D-

44 thoughts on “The Purge (2013)

  1. Great review as always James. This had potential, but horrible execution. I thought Hedley and Hawke were OK; they’ve been better but not the worst about this movie. I personally hated the children, especially the creepy kid, and neither looks to have a solid future in acting. Dialogue was pitiful though. I also think the film was horribly mismarketed. Looked like a horror, yet by and large it was a thriller with slight horror tinges.

    With that said, I think The Purge: Anarchy will be somewhat better, if only because the setting outside of walls will lead to more story possibilities and better overall tension. Acting still looks pretty weak from the trailers though.

    • I only finally watched this because Anarchy is about to released. Figured there was a chance I might end up seeing it in theaters and I should see the prequel first. I’m unconvinced Anarchy will be any better, but we’ll see.

      Agreed that The Purge wasn’t marketed well. It is definitely more of a thriller than a horror flick. And, of course, I mostly agree with the rest of your thoughts, too. 🙂

  2. Seemed like there could have been such a better movie here, had they decided to actually take advantage of the interesting premise they had. But nope, they just decided to go with the same horror-thriller troupes we’ve seen done a hundred-million times before. Nothing new, nothing special. Good review.

  3. I think the premise is a fantastic one. It is original and had potential for a good film to come out of it. Still does and I am hoping The Purge: Anarchy makes up for past mistakes. This one sucked and left me disappointed as hell when it was over!

    • I will agree that the allegory is effective, but for the premise to work, there needs to be some explanation for how the world came to be in such a state. Think of The Hunger Games (obviously a very different genre of fiction). That premise works because Collins gives us plenty of hints that humanity ended its dominance, likely through some sort of nuclear holocaust. The Purge hints that people accepted this once annual crime holiday because of how terrible society became, but it is set just nine years from now. And there is no way our current world would ever allow such a policy. So why did The Purge’s fictional world?

      And I agree that this movie is quite bad. We’ll see if Anarchy gets it right – I’m dubious.

      • Oh yeah, you are right! No denying that! The idea behind it is awesome but the way the movie executed and explained it was poor.

        Not to mention that people would still commit the crimes on the other days anyways…..but that is just nitpicking haha.

      • Agreed. No way The Purge would be so effective at curbing crime. Most folks who commit such crimes usually do it out of desperation, not psychopathic need. And The Purge never suggests legalizing crime reduces the conditions that create such desperation.

        The premise also effects me poorly because I do not believe most people would ‘purge’ themselves. I don’t commit violent crimes for two reasons: 1. I don’t need to and 2. I don’t think it’s morally acceptable. That such crimes are illegal has nothing to do with it. And I don’t think I’m in the minority on that front.

  4. It annoyed me that there was like five scenes where the family were all about to be killed off, but there was ‘one’ missing. It was painfully obvious that that missing person would rush in the middle of the scene and save the day.

  5. Nicely put! Definitely a D- in my book, could only get through the first 30 min. or so before shutting it off. You should check out my short review on this, if you want to have a quick laugh.

    • Amen on all counts. And it even turns out the sequel will also have the Bloodg Stranger again. Cuz, you know, that character was so interesting. (Read: sarcasm.)

    • I finally cracked and saw it only because a sequel is coming out soon and I thought I might wind up seeing it on one of my marathon movie days. But unless you have a similar fear … Stay away. This is awful.

  6. This movie SUCKED. And the worst is if they actually executed it differently and a little more correctly, it might have been a lot better (but never brilliant). Great review here Josh!

  7. So many of my readers want me to review this movie but I can’t muster the energy to sit through the whole thing. Good review. I am avoiding this mess. Thanks!

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