The Purge is a pretty standard violent home invasion thriller/horror movie based around the somewhat novel idea that the invasion takes place on the one night a year when the government has made all crimes legal for 12 hours. So the main characters are aware of and somewhat prepared for the risk but they seem a bit blasé about it and make a lot of the usual horror movie mistakes when things start to go wrong. There is a lot of standard horror movie fare here but it is just interesting enough to keep your attention.
The stupid thing about this movie is not the idiotic idea that a yearly 12 hours of lawlessness would benefit the community and economy but the idea that the psychopaths that participate every year would start promptly at 7pm and calmly walk away at 7am. OK so there might be some kind of draconian punishment for people who over-purge but that is never mentioned in the film. Everyone just seems to trust everyone else will start and stop when the sirens sound.
Most of the film is pretty standard horror movie stuff. The family split up to search for intruders, they get isolated and they get cornered and they get rescued in the nick of time. The lights go out and they have to search the house by the meagre light of torches. They even manage to squeeze some shaky POV night vision camera work courtesy of a remote controlled sentry robot which is at least a nice twist and more original than thinking of a reason for someone to film some crappy footage on their mobile phone or a web camera.
Apart from the usual horror movie stupidity there is some outrageous idiocy from the supposedly caring and well prepared parents. They repeatedly leave their 2 children alone (not even with each other but completely alone) when they know that there is one or even several armed intruders in the house. They don’t communicate with each other or with their children even to point out that there actually are intruders in the house.
Amazingly they wait until the start of the purge is signalled before activating their high-tech security apparently in the belief that no one could possibly get in through their open windows and doors before then. They have told their kids the deactivation code for the system and repeatedly leave them alone in the room with the controls even after one of them has already deactivated the system once. Once they get to the stage that there are armed intruders in the house hunting them they spend much of the time creeping around carefully but shining torches around so people can see where they are and never once looking behind them!
Even the security system seems to be stupid. It has only 2 settings: all doors closed and all doors open. There are no apparent options to talk to people outside or to enter or exit the building without endangering everyone in the house. Nor is there any way to actively repel attackers like shooting at them without opening all the barriers. Now these are probably all expensive optional extras but this family is rich and what’s more they are rich because they sell top of the range security systems so you’d be very surprised if they didn’t have the best of the best for their own home. When the inevitable comes, the barriers are breached with laughable ease.
Much of the action is left to the men in this film and to one man in particular. Although about 50% of the cast is female, most of the time they are either useless in a fight or need to be rescued by the menfolk. To be fair one of the main 2 female characters is a child. Lena Hadley finally gets to be badass towards the end of the film after spending most of the rest of it not being much use at all.
This isn’t to say that the film is all bad though. You genuinely don’t know which way the events are going to turn at points and although the way it plays out in the end is pretty cliché it doesn’t seem obvious that things are going to turn out that way at the time. The setup is nice and slick and gives you just enough background to explain what’s going on without too much tedious exposition. The filming of the neighbourhood and the house are nice and give the impression of wealth and privilege without going over the top to rub the viewer’s nose in it.
The action is well handled and stylish but also gritty and realistic especially towards the climax. You never get the stupid tropes of indestructible villains or ordinary meek families who become hardened killers in the blink of an eye. You just feel that the family is doing what it can to survive (which often doesn’t seem to be much) and the bad guys are having as much “fun” as they can get away with in the 12 hours available. It manages to stay away from the stereotypical sadism that always pervades these films although there are some hints that that kind of thing might be intended.
The villains are nicely played with just the right hint of insanity and cruelty but always with a sense that they are in it for the fun. They remind me a lot of Alex and his droogs from A Clockwork Orange, right down to the leader’s snappy dress sense, affected mannerisms and the way he carries a pump shotgun like an English gentleman carries his umbrella. In fact he is probably the reason for the balance of fun and insanity in the group as he doesn’t stand for anyone getting too carried away.
It is a shame that the story focusses so much on the topic of killing. After all all crimes are forgiven during the purge not just murder. It could have been interesting to see that a lot of other crimes were going on as well but even the anecdotal parts don’t really mention anything other than killing.