The Purge (2013) – Directed by James DeMonaco – Starring Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Tony Oller, Rhys Wakefield, Arija Bareikis, and Chris Mulkey.
The concept of THE PURGE is that for one half-day each year, almost all crime in the United States is legal. That includes murder. In fact, as far as THE PURGE is concerned, murder is the only crime people are interested in.
It’s actually kinda clever. At first, I wanted to say that it would be nice to have seen this without the murder; I wouldn’t want to kill anyone, but if I knew where there was a Ferrari 458 Italia with the keys in it …
Here’s the thing, though. If murder is legal, if people are not allowed allowed to walk around killing anyone they want but this form of crime has become dominant, then I’m sure as hell not leaving my house just to tool around in a sports car, even if it is one of the best cars in the world. I’m staying inside and locking the doors and hoping no one comes a huffing and a puffing and a blowing my door down.
In essence, that is what THE PURGE is about. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) sells home security systems. This is a good business to be in, as he’s sold his systems to nearly everyone in his upper class neighborhood. The Purge kicks in, he closes down his house’s heavy doors, locking his family inside and then they peacefully sit out the night, contemplating the ethics of legalized criminal behavior and playing Monopol-
No wait. People start killing each other inside the house.
There are two ways I want to look at THE PURGE: what it doesn’t do, and what it does do.
What it doesn’t do is adequately engage the socio-political idea of the Purge. Clearly, it’s a system designed by the wealthy to weed out the lowest classes. We’re told crime is at an all-time low under the rule of the “New Founding Fathers” and the citizens of 2022 United States are told the night of crime is responsible. The film does touch on the idea that it’s the homeless who are taking the brunt of the violence, and that their elimination is one of the main, unspoken agendas of the Purge. The other agenda is the rise is gun sales, and in this regard, THE PURGE does work as a nice bit of social commentary on the dangers of the NRA’s horse shit “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” vomit.
THE PURGE was never going to be 12 Angry Men, but with a different cast of characters that highlighted the illegality of killing highly-ranked government officials, we could have got something more than the message the film does deliver, which is that rich people are assholes and capable of violence, too.
I feel its fair to call the film out on this because it raises the issue and doesn’t follow through on it, but setting that aside, what the film does it does rather well.
Honestly, I only decided to watch THE PURGE now because I’m prepping my book on Science Fiction and Fantasy Movies of 2013. I didn’t even think this was a science fiction movie; I thought it was just a thriller/horror film. Is it sci-fi? Sorta. By a broad definition of counting any stories set in the future and engage, even at a minimal level, social ideas, THE PURGE counts as science fiction, but other than setting the movie nine years in the future to introduce the concept of the New Founding Fathers, there isn’t a lot here that makes you think it’s not a contemporary movie.
The Sandin family is a good mix of characters: James fully supports the Purge because he’s profiting from it, his wife, Mary (Lena Headey) becomes increasingly conflicted by the idea, their son, Charlie (Max Burkholder) thinks it’s horrible, and their teenage daughter, Zoey (Adelaide Kane) just wants to suck face with her older boyfriend, Henry (Tony Oller), who her dad doesn’t want her dating.
Things start to go wrong almost immediately. Henry has snuck into the house so he’s trapped inside. He tells Zoey this is so he can talk things out with her dad, but really, he just wants to kill him. You know, that sounds horrible, but as a moment in a movie, it actually worked pretty well, especially when Henry pulling out a gun happens as James is dealing with the consequence of Charlie’s crisis of conscience: allowing Dwayne (Edwin Hodge), an injured man who’s being chased by a group of attackers, into their home.
It’s a good western moment: James has his gun on Dwayne as Henry comes down the stairs, pulling out his own gun. Shots are fired, chaos ensues, and the end result is that Henry is dead and Dwayne goes into hiding.
That group of attackers eventually shows up, demanding Dwayne be sent out, and you know they’re gonna get in and there will be lots of shooting and killing and mayhem.
And there is.
Director James DeMonaco does a good job keeping things moving, however. Not everything makes sense – Zoey just kinda disappears for a while, and then Dwayne does, too, but they come back when someone needs to get shot. I like how the family (minus one member, who gets killed) is eventually saved by the rest of their well-off neighborhood, only for the obvious swerve to come of the neighborhood saving the Sandins just so they can kill them, themselves.
That’s pretty dumb. If I wanted my neighbors dead and I saw a band of maniacs doing the killing, I sure as hell wouldn’t walk outside on a night when murder was legal to kill the crazies and then kill my neighbors. That’s just dumb.
THE PURGE isn’t quite dumb but it’s not overly smart, either. The interesting premise stays too far in the background for me, but the suspense and action are handled professionally. I’m never going to buy THE PURGE, and I probably won’t ever watch it again, but for 85 minutes on a Wednesday night, there’s enough here that I’m not disappointed I watched it.