It makes perfect sense that the director of “The Purge,” James DeMonaco, also wrote the screenplay for the 2005 remake of “Assault on Precinct 13.” And in a way, “Purge” is a kind of sequel or re-imagining. Both films share similar plot points that owe a great deal to the 1976 John Carpenter “Assault” film, which itself was greatly influenced by the Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo,” and even George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.”
It is a pity that, given the history of this particular assault genre, DeMonaco couldn’t have done something more with the theme. Instead, “The Purge” goes from being intriguing to shamelessly derivative over its scant running time. And this despite solid work by stars Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, who really seemed to be up for just about anything.
“The Purge’s” interesting near future premise lends itself to fertile satirical ground. In 2022, the US has virtually eliminated all crime. To do this, the Government has established something called The Purge, which effectively suspends the law for one evening permitting people to commit unspeakable crimes with immunity from prosecution. This night of psychopathic behavior is not endorsed by everyone, and James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) has become rich by selling home security defenses to his friends to guard against the annual purge evening activities.
But this year’s purge is a little different. James has had a record year and his wife just can’t feel good about how they make their money. The couple have two kids who have grown up in the era of the purge and understandably have a lot of complicated questions. In time, a siege will ensue.
“The Purge’s” undoing is that it becomes largely one-note. It is violent but so repetitive that the shocking scenes of violence lose impact. And certain plot elements don’t seem credible. For example, any high end security system for multi-millionaires should have a secure panic room, which is strangely missing here. And the nature of the weapons are uneven, with some characters possessing machine guns and other toting knives, axes, and revolvers. Just what kind of fight have some of these people prepared for?
It all gets a bit frustrating. And whether it was intended or not, the audience I saw the film with laughed and shouted at the screen as the recurring series of murders and blood-letting unfurled. This gave the film a midnight cult movie quality but that quality might not be a good thing. I seriously doubt the filmmaker wants his film to be the punchline. Worse still, at the screening I attended, conclusory scenes evoked laughter and ridicule. Of course, maybe this reaction may be intended on a satirical level, but somehow, I doubt it.
“The Purge” is satire done so broadly that the audience might forget that it is trying to comment on something with weight and meaning.