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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Purge | Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Rhys Wakefield, Edwin Hodge | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
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The Purge | Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Rhys Wakefield, Edwin Hodge | Review

An intriguing but cruel and flawed premise permeates the film that could just as easily have been called Meet the Stupids.

The year is 2022, and The Purge is a government-sanctioned 12-hour period in which all legal consequences (and medical assistance) are suspended; crime is permitted and encouraged.  Break any law, destroy any property, target people for extermination, and by all means get it out of your system.  

The theory is that the country becomes a better place for having sewn its toxic oats, and lots of unnecessary garbage, i.e. the poor, the homeless, the weak would be obliterated. Afterward, with the resulting 1% unemployment rate, countless scores settled, and property seized, everyone wins!  Everyone but the viewer, that is.

James and Mary Sandin (Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey) play the couple we’re supposed to care about, although once introduced to their impossibly affluent lifestyle and NIMBY*attitude, that sentiment may find itself purged.  The couple have two children, Charlie and Zoey (Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane).  Charlie has a conscience and is bothered by the Purge; Zoey has a boyfriend (Tony Oller) to occupy her time.  Both of these attributes misfire spectacularly.

During Purge night, which takes place on March 22 (spring fever?) each year, the Sandins routinely barricade themselves in their fortress-like abode, behind a security system that James sells and has sold to the entire neighborhood.  For some idiotic reason they resent him for it, but the idiocy is an essential element of the events to come.

One of the first of many lapses of judgment occurs when Charlie disables the security system to help a stranger (Edwin Hodge) setting the already violent stage for a clash with a machete-wielding Purge party bedecked with Ivy League educations and entitlements offset by garish, grinning masks.  Their leader (Rhys Wakefield) gives the Sandin family an ultimatum that is chock-full of soul-searching, moral (and moronic) quandaries.

The Purge only engages, albeit slightly, in the last 20 minutes of its very short 85-minute run, when a few twists come into play, but they are too little, too late (one goes laughably against human nature) and ineffective to salvage the ultimately unsatisfying experience of revenge, hate, entitlement, jealousy and “might makes right” that it seems to gleefully put forth.

The film hints at its underlying social issues once in awhile (to let YOU know that THEY know what they are) and then reverts back to its home invasion exercise where people stalk one another like predator and prey, all in an effort to ”form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

Wait. That’s what the original Founding Fathers said.  The New Founding Fathers in the not-too-distant future espouse lawlessness, retribution, and unspoken ethnic cleansing.  Sounds like Paradise, no?

Ethan Hawke does the best he can with the flimsy, contrived script.  Rhys Wakefield is notable for his scary countenance sans mask and creepy demeanor.  Lena Headey seems miscast as a maternal figure of any believability, even though she’s known for being a fiercely protective one on GoT.  Edwin Hodge delivers a credible performance as a hunted, desperate man.

Writer/Director James DeMonaco (Staten Island) asks for massive suspension of disbelief right from the start.  The Purge is delivered up as an easy to swallow, even patriotic event, with naysayers and dissenters being shushed at best, and offed at worst.  The cinematic incitement to bloodlust and murder had many audience members screaming “Kill them!” during one scene, hardly humanity’s finest moment.

Just like The Purge, it disappoints because we thought we were better than that.

*Not In My Back Yard

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