purge1It’s rare an R-rated genre film debuts atop the US box office and makes as much of a splash as The Purge has done. It’s cause for excitement amongst movie fans, as we always tend to think maybe this will be the film that makes Hollywood realise people enjoy seeing horror films in a cinema and not on their laptops after they become the iTunes ‘special of the week’. Unfortunately The Purge is like that hot guy (or girl) that asks for your number but never calls: the concept is exciting and promising, the reality is a let down.

Taking point from other ‘Society Has Gone To Crap So We Have To Kill A Bunch Of People To Restore Balance’ flicks like Logan’s Run, Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, it’s 2022 and crime in America is at a record low. Unemployment is also at an impressive one per cent (remember that figure, because it comes up later). How has this happened? The Founding Fathers of New America have implemented an annual event called The Purge where for a period of 12 hours all crime is legal, including murder. Emergency services are suspended and everyone turns into Amanda Bynes to let out their “inner beast” as is their right under the constitution or something something insert news footage here blah something. Our protagonists are the Sandin family: dad James (Ethan Hawke), who sells security systems to the wealthy, mum Mary (Lena Headey), rebellious teenager Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and the token tech brother Charlie (Mark Burkholder), who looks disturbingly like a 12-year old Benicio del Toro. Character clichés abound. They intend to spend The Purge like any other well-off white family and that’s locked down in their secure mansion. Yet, naturally, things don’t go as planned and the Sandin’s find themselves the target of a posse of Ralph Lauren-wearing psychos led by Aussie Rhys Wakefield.

The Purge sees the third collaboration between writer/director James DeMonaco and Hawke and they obviously work well together. We don’t get to see Hawke play a douchebag enough, which is a shame because he does it bloody well. It’s refreshing too to see Headey play a damsel, as she has carved out a well-deserved niche for herself as a bad-ass bitch. The star here though is Wakefield, which is pleasing to see after a few unlucky runs in the Hollywood game. As the head of the Ivy League psychos, he’s charismatic and chilling. Obviously taking some heavy inspiration from Michael Pitt in Funny Games, it’s Wakefield’s eerie performance as the smiling psycho that stays with you. And that’s it. His performance is probably the only thing about The Purge that stays with you besides the bitter taste of disappointment. The basic premise has plenty of promise and the opening 10 minutes of news clips and interview extracts lead several doors open for exploration. Yet it’s not long before The Purge plunges into generic horror-thriller territory. Cue the creepy masks that seemingly everyone who invades a home in a Hollywood movie has to wear now. Cue any excuse to throw found footage in there (the kids love that). Cue boring blood splatter. Cue a lack lustre ending.

There is something here, which is what’s so frustrating about The Purge because it touches on some universally unsettling and important issues before off it goes dancing down the corridor with a machete and a bunny mask. For instance, in one news clip – and there a many scattered throughout the film – the question is raised as to whether The Purge is a conspiracy by the one percent to exterminate the poor. One per cent, see, I told you that would come up again. It’s the poor who suffer during The Purge, as they can’t afford the protection the top one per cent can. But whose perspective do we see The Purge from? Rich white people with rich white people problems: like trying to make a family dinner without “a single carb”. Yeah, okay, these people are supposed to grate on your nerves and yes, their wealth and self-involvement is supposed to disgust you. They are the one per cent and ew, one per centers are like way awful because that’s what those Occupy people said. Yeah, lets go with that. But who are the ‘evil’ people that come to terrorise them? Other one per centers. Other rich white people with nice hair and good cars. For a movie made by one per centers setting out to make you question one percenters it sure seems to have a lot of fucking one percenters in it. To be fair though, at least producer Michael Bay didn’t cast a busty blonde as the teenage female family member (although he does have her wearing knee socks). And nothing explodes, so there’s that.

The Purge promises a deep psychological analysis on the animalistic nature of the human condition, but what it delivers is people in creepy masks doing clichéd creepy shit. If only the film was as clever as its marketing campaign.

[rating=2]

Maria Lewis - follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz

There is no Australian release date as yet.