One has to wonder what writer-director James DeMonaco was thinking when he pitched the scenario.
Part social commentary on class warfare- with the wealthy battened down against the havoc wrecked by the retribution of the poor, and those privileged people hunting the homeless for blood sport.
Part let’s watch Ethan Hawke armed with a gun, a pool table and a pinball machine, knock off masked prep school couples who, giddy with the scent of blood lust, invade his family’s dark maze of a mansion during a 12 hour, government sanctioned violent and lawless free for all.
It’s the fear of a home invasion, the usual game of cat and mouse, and the suitably creepy effect of silence with the stretched faces of the masked intruders. This is coupled with scenes involving Lena Headey’s masterful ability to switch from paralyzed fear to explosive anger of a protective mother.
Too bad the film as a whole feels like a home movie that tries too hard to be something memorable.
Let’s go through a neat summary shall we? It’s the year 2022 on March 21 at 5:58pm. Talk about precision. Rate of unemployment is at 1 percent and crime is nearly nonexistent due to the government’s statement that things can run smoothly and people can carry on with their lives in a civilized and peaceful manner if all acts of crime and violence are cleansed from a person’s system. This yearly twelve hour period is aptly called The Purge or Purging.
James Sandin (Hawke) is a well-to-do and rather well off husband and father of two who sells security systems to his fellow gated community neighbours. The film opens with him travelling home, his dutiful wife, Mary (Headey) completing mundane tasks around the house, while their teenage daughter Zooey (Adelaide Kane) fools around with her star crossed lover boyfriend. The Sandin’s son, Charlie (Mark Burkholder) with either a heart of gold or no clear motivation, spends his time (and most of the film) hiding in his crawlspace where he remote controls a maimed doll on wheels that resembles the baby doll made by the strange kid Sid in “Toy Story”. His contraption rolls around the house mostly spying on Heady’s legs when it’s not being used as a tool to dispense thrills while the audience is forced to play the waiting game.
Cue 5:58 pm Purge time. The Sandins are secure under James’ lockdown. James is calm, Mary is nervous, Zooey is sexually frustrated, and Charlie is, well, DeMonaco can’t seem to get a firm hold on him either. But the security system, which earned the Sandins a new extension to their already extensive home, does look pretty impressive. This is purposely pointed out by a clearly envious neighbour feigning sincerity with a gift of cookies and compliments. But enough of the weekday stuff. Tension starts to finally pick up when Charlie witnesses a homeless man running down his block, pleading to be saved. Then in an act of kindness or stupidity, Charlie smashes in the code, letting this man into the Sandin’s stranger proof fortress.
Enter the country club pesudo Mason family gang. A group of yuppies with no name and all masked except for the ring leader who apparently needs no mask, and able to string together such eloquent language that it becomes almost painful and absurd, but creepy at times. “Let the purging commence.”
Perhaps if DeMonaco managed to focus on the consequences this yearly blood bath has on his underwritten characters then we wouldn’t be left with a film that feeds our base need for mindless violence, but leaves frustration in its wake.