Ah, to live in a world with one percent unemployment and a nearly non-existent crime rate.
When you consider the world today, it seems a far-off dream. But what if that could be achieved simply by making all crime legal (including murder) for one 12-hour period every year? Well, that's the interest-piquing premise behind "The Purge," a new horror/thriller starring Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey ("Game of Thrones"), opening Friday, June 7.
Hawke and Headey play a husband and wife whose posh suburban lifestyle -- usually shielded from the yearly "purge" (the aforementioned 12-hour crime free-for-all) literally by thick steel doors and concrete walls, and figuratively by their high-income status -- becomes threatened when their son opens the family home to a man desperately seeking asylum. And the people from whom he's seeking protection aren't messing around.
So, will "The Purge" keep you captive, or does the story fall short of the concept? Read on for the 10 things you should know about the summer's first horror/thriller.
1. The Premise Is Very Cool...
An America where all crime is legal for a 12-hour period once a year? If that doesn't pique your interest, we're not sure what will. The underlying concept of a yearly "purge" to "release the beast" and cleanse your soul of wicked tendencies and violent thoughts through the execution of heinous crimes (mostly murder, from what we could tell) for 12 hours was enough to hook us in, and the science behind its positive effects on society (one percent unemployment rate, nearly zero crime the rest of the year) is explained somewhat clearly -- if not loosely -- in the movie. But what happens when the purge affects the people it's meant to protect? This movie, apparently.
2. ...The Execution, Not So Much
While the premise is unique, the story and characters leave much to be desired. James Sandin (Hawke) and Mary Sandin (Headey) have a beautiful, super-sized, suburban McMansion somewhere in western America. They have two children, a teenage daughter named Zoey (Adelaide Kane), and younger son of indeterminate age (12? 13?) named Charlie (Max Burkholder of "Parenthood"). When the purge strikes, the Sandins' glorious, fortified home goes on lockdown, but, luckily, it's stocked with shotguns, handguns, steel-plated windows and doors, and four people who have clearly never taken a crisis management class. As you'd expect, anything that could go wrong does go wrong -- but not for reasons that feel organic, or, frankly, make sense.
3. Mary Sandin Is No Cersei Lannister
If you're a "Game of Thrones" fan and you were hoping to see a bob-cut, brunette Cersei Lannister kick butt and take names, "The Purge" is not the movie for you. That's not to say that Headey doesn't get in on the action, it's just that Mary Sandin is a far cry from the actress's insanely smart and cunning Cersei.
4. You Will Get Very Frustrated With the Sandin Family
As previously mentioned, the Sandins aren't exactly good in a crisis. Without giving too much away, they make some startlingly bad choices, like opening their home to some random guy who is trying to escape a group of masked, murderous purge fanatics. This is the fault of the youngest Sandin, Charlie, whom you will blame for pretty much everything that goes wrong in the movie. He lets a bloodied, desperate man in need of help into the house, completely ignoring his parents and everything he was taught in school. And, before you go putting us at the top of your own Purge Day to-do list, we haven't spoiled anything; this part of the story was revealed in the trailer. But Charlie isn't solely to blame for all this. Everyone in the Sandin family makes a misguided, mind-bogglingly bad decision at some point or another.
5. There Are Some Genuine Scares and Thrills
Bad decisions aside, there are some truly scary, jump-out-of-your seat moments and impressive action sequences in "The Purge." Without giving too much away, there is one scene involving papa Sandin, a pool table, and a shotgun that left us wondering if Hawke should consider switching gears and take the action-star route.
6. The Masks Are Truly Freaky
We've seen plenty of terrifying masked villains on the big screen (as this slideshow can attest), and we're going to add the creepy, ironically happy masks featured in "The Purge" to that list. Their freakish smiles and soulless eyes were etched into our brain as unwillingly as Tim Curry's Pennywise in Stephen King's "It." Unfortunately, what's under the masks isn't as impressive as what our imaginations cooked up.
7. It Tries to Comment on Violence and Classist America, But Doesn't Quite Succeed
The social commentary in "The Purge" is obvious in its concept: the rich getting richer by exploiting the poor and less privileged -- or, in this case, killing them. However, it being a thriller, that's not the true focus of the movie, so don't expect to engage in hours of high-level conversation about the one percent afterwards.
8. There Are Moments When It Makes Absolutely No Sense
It's difficult to explain this one without spoiling key plot points, but unrealistic (and frustrating) decisions are made, some unnecessary characters are included, and there are moments when the movie asks far too much of its audience. Going along with the idea that, in 2022, America has elected to have a yearly, nationwide, 12-hour, penalty-free crime-spree is one thing, asking the audience to believe that the Sandins' lockdown system could be so easily overridden, and that they would, in essence, make all of their decisions based on the emotional reactions of their doe-eyed, adolescent son is another.
9. Again, Prepare to Be Very, Very, Very Frustrated With the Sandins
In the same way that the movie can, at times, make no sense, the lack of unity in and the poor decision-making skills of the Sandin clan will make you very thankful for your own family. It's difficult to be asked to follow and root for characters who caused the very predicament in which they're trapped, and then watch as they continue to make poor, illogical choices in an effort to clean up the mess. We kept waiting for a saving grace, but sadly, by the end, we started to question whether or not the Sandin family should live to see another purge.
10. Lower Your Expectations
The concept is clever -- and so is the marketing campaign -- which may lead you to some lofty expectations for "The Purge." If you're expecting an original, suspenseful action-horror-thriller with surprises around every corner, think again. It's really a summer popcorn movie with some familiar scares that will leave diehard horror/thriller fans unsatisfied.
Photo Credit: Universal