'The Purge' review: Preachy commentary, poor acting undermine intriguing premise
Sadly, this is yet another case of a film's premise deteriorating into a base, underwhelming flick.
In short: A group of killers threaten to break into a family's home on the one night a year when any and all crimes are legal. (watch the trailer)
The most interesting aspect of 'The Purge' is the idea of a night where even murder is completely legal. But sadly this potentially great premise devolves into a lobotomized, one-note killfest.
'The Purge' wants to be a cynical commentary on a world where class warfare is taken to the next step (actually 'purging' the poor), but this social insight is executed poorly through shallow acting and preachy dialogue. The film establishes a flourish America that succeeds only because of the annual purge - a society that has lost its soul via a 12-hour crime wave each year.
But these lofty concepts lost due to one-dimensional antagonists and preachy dialogue. Apparently all the bloodthirsty psychos trying to break into the family's home are all rich, highborn members of society 'entitled' to their purge - but all of them are played as little more than, well, bloodthirsty psychos. They deliver long monologues how the annual purge benefits society and how anyone sacrificed in the purged will be for the greater good.
The problem with any preachy film is they tend to just shout their social commentary at the audience. It's rarely subtle and almost never countered with any substantial argument. 'The Purge' takes a pretty heavy hand in its admonishment of the entitled nature of the 'haves' over the victimization of the 'have-nots.'
None of the villains have any depth to them as individual characters - they simply act as one faceless flock bent on murder. This reduces them to simply monsters with no complexity. Their motivations for wanton violence are thin and sometimes outright ridiculous.
What's worse than poorly written villains is a family of protagonists who appear intent on making every single frustrating or stupid decision they can make to insure their own demise.
The father (Ethan Hawke) is a jerk who has made a fortune off the annual purge by selling home security systems. His wife ('Game of Thrones' star Lena Headey) is a rich homemaker whose mansion is the envy of her gated community. Their children (Adelaide Kane and Max Burkholder) do little more than constantly put the family in danger over and over and over again.
After a while, due to the family member's constant poor/horrible decision making, it's hard to not root for the murderous psychos.
On the plus side, the 85-minute running time is mercifully very short.
Final verdict: Not worth the trip to the theaters - a home rental at best.