Its an intriguing set up, but pretty soon you realise that for all the thought that has gone into the premise, what we're about to see is little more than a slightly tighter take on that Hollywood favourite: the home invasion movie. All the early clips of psychologists on TVs talking about how the Purge is good for people and all those hints about some kind of US revolution that led the new Founding Fathers is washed aside as the Sandin's youngest kid (Max Burkeholder) lets a stranger through their security system to protect him from a group of over-privileged bastards who take the Purge very seriously indeed. This group then threaten the Sandins, claiming they will let the family live if they give up the stranger, which leads to a meltdown as James's family splinter apart. Oh, and did I mention that James's daughter (played by Adelaide Kane) has sneaked her boyfriend into the house, and he intends to kill James, who disapproves of the relationship? Its fine that I didn't because this thread - initially interesting, as we realise there's a threat within the walls as well as without - is dropped faster than a hot potato. And yes, I know that I just employed a cliche, but since The Purge has such little issue about using them, I figured I'd take the same liberty.
Its a shame that the film becomes a rote mash-up of middle class family meltdown and home-under-siege cliches, because it has such a lot of potential. I'd expected more dark comedy, but everyone plays it so straight that there's no room for even the barest hint of satire. Even when a last act twist threatens some degree of social commentary, it is swiftly abandoned for more violence and a far-too-simple resolution. And that's really the problem. Every time something interesting happens, it is quickly abandoned. Threats are dispatched in moments. and tensions are forgotten as some new, half-sketched conflict comes into play. Not even the characters ever rise above archetypes, and even the always-watchable Lena Heady seems at a loss to find anything to distinguish her character beyond being married to James. The intriguing costumes of the purgers serve little to no purpose, and the "polite stranger" who leads them is initially mesmerisingly oily, but soon becomes little more than a shadow akin to any number of horror movie bad guys. As for the homeless that Sandin Jr saves? Well, he only pops up again now and then to remind that we're supposed to care about his being saved from the nasty Purgers outside.
For all its faults, The Purge isn't unwatchable, but it doesn't offer anything new or insightful except for its premise. Its distracting, with decent enough performances, but the frights aren't original enough and the intriguing premise is never fully followed through, resulting in a by-the-numbers-thriller that never quite distinguishes itself in the way it should. It is, in essence, a movie purged of any and all originality.
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