Horror movies have a certain draw to them. In each movie, the story is basically the same: picture of normal life, something erupts to challenge this, people in story must band together (or against one another) to survive, the end. It isn’t rocket science, but it has been done down to a science. In this Ethan Hawke movie, this is my second Hawke movie in about a year (two more than any other year), he plays a family man who sells security systems to protect people from an annual activity called The Purge. The US government has decided that people are violent and if they have one evening to expend that energy over one night, no repercussions. When Hawke and his family go to bed that night, with the house safely locked up, a threat emerges from within and outside the house, both attributable to the children. The dangers compound and run into one another and the family that would normally avoid participating.
Without revealing the hooks in the story, the execution comes off at such a wonderful pace that the passable acting can be overlooked. Hawke plays an excellent father, but the story doesn’t give him great range. The best performances come from Game of Thrones alum Lena Heady. The conflict ramps up again and again and her reactions are both expected and yet still come off as a surprise. At one point, when the house is being bombarded, she is asked to defend one side of the house, but as a woman who hasn’t wielded a weapon before, she predictably acts skittish and endangers herself and children. While the scene is expected in a horror movie, it still came off with a good amount of tension.
The story was really unusual, something that could have been taken to great heights. Instead, as seems to be usual with horror movies nowadays, the story backs off as it slows down. The idea that the government would allow a no-holds-barred evening of killing opens up a variety of stories, and yet this horror movie did little with it. I often wonder if there is something wrong with Hollywood, other than the obvious and this movie convinces me that original thought isn’t permitted.