2016.31: The Purge (TV, Film 4)
The Purge is another near-future dystopia rather like The Hunger Games series. On one night every year the citizens of the United States go on a murder/rape/whatever-goes spree without any fear of criminal prosecution, the theory being that by thus exorcising them of all their pent-up frustrations and violent rage they can be law-abiding citizens the rest of the year. It’s a twelve-hour period when the police and emergency services step back and let the citizens run amok, a ‘purge’ to cleanse the soul of America, after which normal civilisation returns and survivors honour those who died ‘for the greater good’. We are told that for the remaining 364 days of the year crime is largely unheard of. All of this by the year 2022.
Whoops. 2022? Six years from now? There goes any credibility. At least The Hunger Games set itself in some distant post-Apocalypse future; this thing looks like it might happen next week. Unfortunately this film doesn’t have a big enough budget to create a far-future society, it has to be set pretty much in the here and now, hence the leap of faith and required suspension of disbelief with the date set in 2022. Its your standard modern dumb movie with a grand idea and subsequent mediocre execution.
More than that, the Purge itself is largely off-camera and the subject of news broadcasts watched by the protagonists on tv, because this film is really more an unofficial remake of Assault on Precinct 13 (oddly starring Ethan Hawke who was himself in an official remake of Assault on Precinct 13 some years ago-yes it’s all very confusing, I almost had to second-glance which film I was watching).
Hawke plays James Sandin, a wealthy engineer who has sold advanced home security systems to the rich that turns homes into armoured fortresses so Purgers cannot get in and kill owners during the annual Purge. On this particular Purge night however, after Sandin and his wife and children hunker down for the night, tech-wiz son Charlie sees an injured and bleeding man begging for help outside and allows him entry. Unfortunately for the Sandins. the man has been targeted by a gang of rich blood-thirsty Purgers who want the man released back to them so they can kill him. Otherwise they will lay siege to the house and kill all the Sandins too. Very Assault on Precinct 13 territory here.
Which brought me to the realisation that, while the film is by no means bad, it would have been immeasurably superior had it been directed by John Carpenter, a director well-accustomed to delivering real tension and thrills in films like this- hell, he directed the original Assault on Precinct 13 and very best example of this kind of siege movie. He could have made this into a tight, riveting action b-movie that was more than the sum of its parts. Hell, he could probably do it in his sleep.
One other observation- Ethan Hawke is in his mid-forties now and looks incredibly similar to how Harrison Ford did in his heyday- particularly how Ford looked in Blade Runner in 1982. They could cast Hawke as a young Deckard for flashbacks in Blade Runner 2 and it’d be quite convincing. Really, give it a look. It’s quite spooky, particularly when he nervously patrols the darkened house with gun and flashlight.
Anyway, The Purge is by no means a bad film, just not as good as it might have been, even if it is saddled with a premise that isn’t really as clever as it thinks it is. I gather the second Purge movie is better and that there’s actually a third on the way. I guess audiences don’t mind their films to be stupid as long as they are simple, undemanding and violent. These Purge movies could run and run then.