“The Purge” is the kind of film that sounds good in theory but fails in execution.
It starts with an intriguing premise – a futuristic society where one night a year crime is legal – but can’t keep the early momentum, quickly spiraling into a silly and somewhat predictable thriller.
Set in 2022, “The Purge” is built around a government sanctioned yearly event in which everyone can commit crimes in a 12-hour window with no repercussions.
James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) and his family – his wife Mary (Lena Headey), daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and son Charlie (Max Burkholder) – choose not to participate, opting instead to lock themselves in their house and stay safe.
When Charlie lets a stranger in who has been targeted by a group of 20-something yuppies, the family finds itself in danger of being ‘purged’ by the group.
For about the first half hour “The Purge” is decent – hinting at some social commentary undertones.
That promise quickly fades, as writer/director James DeMonaco’s film settles into all your typical family in peril cliches.
It gets sillier and sillier as it goes, with the characters constantly doing dumb things. The film then tries to take a moral stand in the final act, but it feels false.
I think “The Purge” might have worked as a short story or even made an interesting episode of “The Twilight Zone.”
As a 90-minute film, it very quickly wears out its welcome.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Stoker” (B), the first American film from Japanese director Chan-wook Park, the man behind the cult favorite “Oldboy.” This is a creepy thriller that plays to Park’s strengths, with a strong cast and a solid screenplay.
Mia Wasikowska plays India, an 18-year-old girl whose world is shattered when her father Richard (Dermot Mulroney) is killed in an auto accident.
Her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who India never knew existed, shows up at the funeral and quickly gets involved with India’s mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman).
India comes to suspect that Charlie has ulterior motives, but despite her fears she becomes increasingly infatuated with him.
“Stoker” is a thriller with a nice slow build that some audiences may find frustrating, but the payoff is rewarding for those who are patient.
There are intriguing layers at work, with all three leads having dark sides but also managing to be sympathetic as well. Kidman is better being a bad girl here than she was in last year’s “The Paper Boy,” with Goode and Wasikowska also giving strong performances.
But Park is the real star here, bringing his visual flair to the material in a way that ratchets up the tension. This is a director who isn’t afraid to tackle any subject, no matter how taboo. “Stoker” is right in his creepy element.
It’s a great introduction to Americans who may be unfamiliar with his work, while also giving his growing fan base another strong piece of work to add to their film collection.
“Stoker” is rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content and will be available on DVD on Tuesday.