Platinum Dunes is a production company formed in 2001 by infamous high-budget-high-return-schlock film maker Michael Bay, along with producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form. They specialize in making horror films, specifically remakes of classics. These include the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Amityville Horror, and Friday The 13th. They occasionally put out original works too, such as The Hitcher and The Unborn. So far, none of the films they have put out have been critical successes, in fact they’ve all been savaged by pretty much everyone that saw them. Their logo is like a stamp of bad quality to most people, and it’s not surprising considering their output. Why do I bring this up? Well, to date The Purge is the only Platinum Dunes-produced film that I didn’t immediately think was going to be bad. It had a very intriguing idea, a very well-established actor in the lead role, and a trailer which actually looked promising. Is The Purge the first film put out by Platinum Dunes to actually be good?
In 2022, the ‘new founding fathers’ of the US instate a new law: every year, for 12 hours, there is a ‘purge’, a night where every crime is legal, including murder. The idea is that the nation’s citizens can vent all their negative emotions and anger for one night so that they won’t act on them throughout the rest of the year. James Sadin (Ethan Hawke), a rich security salesman, supports The Purge, but feels no need to take part, so every year, he locks down his home and just wait out the night. However, in the night, a stranger comes running down their suburban street badly hurt and yelling for help. Seeing no one respond, James’ son, Charlie (Max Burkholder), let’s him inside. The group hunting the stranger come to their house and say that if they do not turn over the man to be executed, they will break through their barricades and kill them all. Now the Sadins must decide whether to fight or survive.
Now, when I first heard the concept, I thought, well, this could either be really clever or really ridiculous, as I just couldn’t think how the American public as we know them could ever agree to such an idea wholeheartedly. I was prepared for something in the film to explain this, but sadly nothing came. It’s one of the film’s biggest detractions, and really bothered me throughout the entire film. Unless every single American is actually a closet psychopath or the US isn’t a democracy anymore I struggle to see how this could be pulled off. The whole story is littered with plot holes, which I won’t go into for fear of spoilers, but needless to say they’re very annoying.
The Purge is billed on most websites as a thriller, or at best a horror-thriller, which I suspect was written by people who hadn’t actually seen the film, as it’s straight up horror, no question. The majority of the film takes place in the dark, and jump scares come in endless quantities. The only time ‘thriller’ could come into question is in the climax, but even that is so laden with cheap jump scares that it’s more a failed horror than a thriller. The trouble is, the film just isn’t scary, not that it isn’t trying. It does attempt to build an atmosphere occasionally, but the scares it does have are so obvious and telegraphed that they break the tension completely and are more irritating than scary.
The acting on the whole is surprisingly good, with Ethan Hawke being just as good as he always is, playing the suburban father perfectly and actually making you feel for the character and his dilemma. But by far the stand-out is the villain, who mostly talks to them through their security camera, who is so delightfully hammy and over-the-top that every time he is on screen you just relish his John Malkovich-esque delivery even while everyone else is being sullen and depressed. It’s jarring, and it doesn’t fit the film’s tone at all, but it’s fun to watch regardless, especially with some of the dire dialogue he’s given to work with.
The Purge is not going to change anyone’s minds about Platinum Dunes as a production company, but it’s by far the best film they’ve ever put out. It’s not really like their other work, and it obviously has serious ambition behind it, but it’s just squandered by it’s ludicrous premise, laughable dialogue, lack of atmosphere, and meandering plot, which barely develops beyond what you see in the trailer. Everything that happens you see from a mile away, and it turns what could have been an interesting speculative science fiction horror film into just another wasted opportunity.