HT Schuyler: The Purge Review

Posted: June 8, 2013 by htschuyler in HT Schuyler's Movie Reviews


Rated 14A for strong bloody violence and language.

Directed by: James DeMonaco.

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge and Rhys Wakefield.

Okay, so I’ve had some issues with this movie before I even saw it. Why? Because I was constantly defending it. Everyone who saw that trailer had the same thought process: “Well that’s stupid.” And you know what? It is kind of stupid, the idea that for 12 hours you can do whatever you want and this somehow supports the American economy, seems absurd, right? But here’s where I get defensive; this plot, while it may be pretty out there, is no more absurd or stupid than any of those other dystopian future films. The idea that that emergency respond systems shut down for a night is no more crazy than say, The Hunger Games, where having a bunch of kids kill each other apparently keeps things, or Death Race, where prisoners get into bad ass killer cars and race/kill each other for the public’s amusement, or Gamer, where prisoners get into bad ass video game plot devices and kill each other for the public’s amusement. Now I know that the idea that one night of doing whatever you want magically solving all of the country’s problems is outrageous, and the idea that it fixes everything is pretty crazy, but the whole concept of no rules for one night a year really isn’t that crazy, compared to some of the other stupid ideas of the future there are out there. At least it’s doing something original, and for horror films these days, that’s pretty damn exciting. Alright, that was my own personal purge, now let’s dive into the film…

Ethan Hawke plays James Sandin, a man who sells home security for people’s houses to protect themselves during the annual Purge, an event where all laws are forgotten for one night so people can release all their inner frustrations and hatred that they have built up throughout the year, must face his own personal nightmare as his young son Charlie (Max Burkholder) lets in a stranger (Edwin Hodge) to take refuge in their house from a gang of misfits (led by a polite yet crazy man (Rhys Wakefield)) who wish to cleanse their souls and kill him. They demand he return the man to them, only for the rest of the film to become a game of cat and mouse as James and his family try to survive the night, by whatever means possible.

Ethan Hawke seems to be on a house of horrors kick lately, with this and last year’s Sinister being about a normal man confronted with terror in their house, and he plays the role very well. He does the best he can with the material written, and has some beyond awesome moments towards the end when he gets to reveal his inner bad ass. Lena Headey plays his wife Mary, and aside from towards the end, she really just spends the entire movie looking scared and questioning everything her husband does. I would like to say her acting abilities were really showing here but unfortunately besides some great stuff later on she’s just sort of bare. The two kids played by Adelaide Kane and Max Burkholder do their job, but goddamn can they be annoying. The youngest child, Charlie, spends most of the night trying to get his family killed through his stupidity, and the daughter, Zoey, spends most of the night trying to get HERSELF killed through her stupidity. I suppose the acting was fine for what it was, but those characters were so tedious and annoying that anyone could have been playing them and it wouldn’t have made a difference. The “bloody stranger” played by Edwin Hodge is good for the most part, although admittedly he spends the first two thirds wandering around scared, but towards the end he also has some really great moments, especially a kick ass but also sort of touching moment with the family. The leader of the psychopaths that are after the stranger, Rhys Wakefield, is good at playing up the polite yet creepy vibe, but almost seems to overdo it and times and can even come off as comical in his bizarreness, not to mention certain character actions performed by him that seem very out of place and seem to only be there to add some extra “horror”.

The Good:

My first praise is obviously personal preference, but I really liked the concept. As bizarre as it may be I find it to be very original and well thought out. The movie doesn’t spend to much time explaining the politics behind the “Purge” and instead just uses it as a premise for the rest of the film, but at the end it actually has a lot to say and even ends on a questionable note asking audiences to think hard about the subject and events that took place, and what one would have done it that situation. The film has a surprisingly heavy message that I really didn’t expect walking into this, but was pleasantly surprised when it played out. While the first two thirds of the film are mainly set up, and very dull at that, the last 30 or so minutes of the movie were, to be blunt, fucking awesome. As overused the premise of people defending their homes is, I found this film did enough right with it to make it stick out, and some of the action scenes here are just straight up brutal. You see Ethan Hawke’s character finally snap, and begin his own personal purge, in a very violent and beyond entertaining level. The events that follow are so well done for a moment it made me forgive my previous complaints with the film. The movie also has some very tense scenes, and even some scary imagery, mainly due to the masks the intruders are wearing, but none the less it was effective. Though it uses tricks that have been used time and time again, the film was still very successful in delivery shocks, scares, moral dilemmas, and most importantly, entertainment.

The Bad:

As I previously stated, the first 50 minutes of the film are very dull…too dull. Despite the payoff being beyond satisfying, the build up is very slow, clumsily directed and times just really annoying. Most of the time is spent watching characters slowing search through their dark house with flashlights looking for someone, and it becomes old very fast and could have benefited from more things happening, at least something to keep the audience invested. I realize the attempt at building tension, but there is only so much tension you can build before you run out of substance. There is a certain event that happens early on that I won’t spoil because it doesn’t appear in any of the trailers, but it’s cool in concept at first, but once it’s done you wonder why it was even there and realize that it actually served no purpose except to give the daughter a bit more motivation, but really could have been taken out of the film entirely and it wouldn’t have changed the plot at all. Also the payoffs to a couple of key characters are very unsatisfying and even lazy in a way. A lot of films rely on the classic “deus ex machina” saviour device to get its characters out of sticky situations, but her the device becomes its own fucking character; seriously, basically every character at some points gets a deus ex and it becomes really annoying and once again, lazy, on the writer and director’s part. Laziness really is a key element that forms the negatives of this film, because it really had so much potential to do something with this really unique idea but ended up reverting back to the whole “home invasion” plot, which is fine, but you leave the movie really thinking it could have been more, it could have expanded on certain elements and still kept it’s tension and scares, but instead went for the same old same old in terms of plot points.

In Conclusion:

This is a film with a really great concept, some very smart morals and messages to get across, and some fucking amazing violent set pieces that really bring the film around, but when all is said and done, this is just another “home invasion” movie with a bit deeper of an initial concept than most. If you were one those people who dismissed this film right away because of its premise then stay clear, but if you thought it looked interesting it’s worth your time to watch, because the last third really is great, and the film has a lot of going for it, unfortunately it just has more going against it. Still, it’s worth a watch.


  1. table9mutant says:

    Great review. :-) I just reviewed this too and we felt the same way about most of it. I went to it because it’s a great concept. I can’t believe people don’t at least agree with that much. I’m so sick of seeing so many unoriginal movie ideas these days that this one felt really fresh. I don’t think the movie is near as good as its concept, though. I also gave this 6.5/10.

  2. reel411 says:

    agreed. a great concept that was just not explored as deep as it should have been. but i really enjoyed the film for what it became, but was disappointed by the unused potential to explore an original concept.

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