Director: James DeMonaco
Screenwriter: James DeMonaco
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder
Rated R | 85 Minutes
Release Date: June 7, 2013
Blessed be the New Founders. And blessed be America, a Nation Reborn!
In the year 2022, the United States is prospering with an unemployment rate at 1% and crime at an all-time low.
To sustain this prosperity the New Founders of America creates an annual 12-hour period from the evening of March 21 to the morning of March 22 in which all crimes, including rape and murder, become legal. During this time, police, fire, and emergency services are unavailable. The NFA calls this event “The Purge.”
By recognizing the inherently violent nature of mankind, the NFA succeeds in creating a lawful, healthy outlet for American outrage. By giving the American people an opportunity to vent their negativity and frustration, the country is able to keep unemployment and crime at extremely low levels for the rest of the year (by killing the homeless and unemployed).
Written and directed by James DeMonaco (Staten Island), The Purge is a low-budget, high-concept home invasion thriller starring Ethan Hawke (Sinister, Before Midnight) and Lena Headey (Dredd, Game of Thrones).
The private security industry is booming as America’s one percent barricade themselves inside their mansions, lining the pockets of security entrepreneur James Sandin (Hawke), who has fortified his own palatial manor with the latest Purge-proof technology. The Sandin family’s annual lockdown is interrupted, however, when their son (Max Burkholder) bypasses the system and provides sanctuary to a homeless man (Edwin Hodge) screaming for help.
The man is running from a mob of machete-wielding maniacs led by an entitled, preppy kid identified in the credits as “Polite Stranger” (Rhys Wakefield). Now James, his wife Mary (Heady), and their kids Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Burkholder) find themselves under siege as the masked killers prepare to “release the beast” and purge themselves of violent tendencies.
DeMonaco’s film feels inspired by Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. There’s a good dose of Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left in there for good measure, too.
It begins with an intriguing sci-fi premise but quickly devolves into a mediocre home invasion flick with people walking down dark hallways dual-wielding flashlights and kitchen knives, fighting intruders wearing Halloween masks.
The Purge isn’t as effective as Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers or as disturbing as Funny Games, Michael Haneke’s psychological thriller, but there are a couple of tense moments when the characters aren’t acting like complete idiots.
Instead of stealthily moving through the house to secure family members, people scream their loved ones’ names at the top of their lungs, swinging their flashlights wildly in all directions. It’s like dad called a family meeting, “Hey guys, let’s make as much noise as humanly possible to alert the homicidal rich kids to our location.” There are plenty of moments where moviegoers will groan in disbelief at the idiocy of the characters, especially Max Burkholder’s Charlie.
If this were the ’80s, Charlie would be the hero of The Purge. He’s the loner kid who stays in his room tinkering on remote-controlled spy cameras and gadgets. He’s like Brad from Critters, or the kids from The Monster Squad, but suddenly (because the script calls for some suspenseful situations) he makes really dumb decisions, like “hiding” with a flashlight on.
Same goes for Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, who deliver solid performances as wealthy, upper-class white people with consciences, but ultimately succumb to doing really dumb things when their family’s lives are in danger. I’m not expecting these average citizens to suddenly become John Rambo and Ellen Ripley, but in an age where kids read The Zombie Survival Guide and middle-aged housewives are obsessed with The Walking Dead we are constantly refining our own personal game plan for the end of the world.
If you’re reading this review, I’m sure you’ve had a few discussions at bars or parties with friends about what you would do if zombies started busting through the doors. To see these characters bumble around in the dark is slightly more buffoonish than seeing them suddenly become action heroes – like they’re forced to be reckless and thoughtless in order to make the script more exciting.
It’s hard to watch a film like The Purge after seeing Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, a smart, entertaining film that reinvents the genre by putting a fresh twist on home-invasion. Like Cabin in the Woods, You’re Next dissects the horror genre so thoroughly, with such humor and intelligence, that it makes other efforts seem futile.
Still, The Purge will be a financial success for Universal, Blumhouse, and Platinum Dunes based on the strength of its premise, which we’ll no doubt see repackaged in countless sequels over the next six or seven years. Like Saw and Paranormal Activity, The Purge is the perfect kind of low-budget, high-grossing film studio execs love to franchise. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited about The Purge 2: Get Purged or Die Tryin’.
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