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Movie Review: The Purge
Adam Frazier   |  

The Purge PosterThe Purge
Director: James DeMonaco
Screenwriter: James DeMonaco
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder
Universal Pictures
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.

The Purge: Masked Killers

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’.

“Release the Beast” and Follow Me on Twitter!

  • Christian Keesee

    Thank you for at least mentioning Funny Games! Not seen it mentioned in the few other reviews I’ve read for this.

  • http://www.headfirstonline.com/ Javier Montoya

    I couldn’t stand the writing in this movie. What kind of real-life
    kids disappear into the darkness of the house for no good reason at all
    other than to inconvenience their parents and prolong the film. Every
    one of the ‘good’ characters was completely useless except for the
    father. The kids needlessly create more problems and the mother as well.
    If you’re going to have an inner moral conflict why have it when your
    children’s lives are at stake!? It would be much more believable to me
    that any mother would stop at nothing to save her children’s lives. I
    couldn’t ignore that characters disappeared from the scene for long
    periods of time for no reason. This movie did a poor job of being
    believable at any level. I found myself hoping the kids would die for
    most of the second half of the movie. Someone give me one good reason
    why it’s better to stalk your victim or explain to them your whole evil
    plan rather than just kill them, considering that’s your only reason for
    being in their home in the first place. Completely lazy writing here.

  • Pingback: North Carolina Film Critics Association

  • tipothehat

    Interesting review. I loved The Purge- but I think my take was different from everyone else’s. I thought the characters were cliché on purpose. The breadwinner father, the soft and weak mother, the hypersexualized teen girl, and the outcast son all living out the American dream being exactly what society tells us we should be/are. Their faith in their status, the security system, and the blue flowers keeps them from ever considering that what’s going on is wrong or that they might be a target, which is why they’re at a complete loss when they do become a target and act like complete morons. They bought the NFAs concept fully and everyone repeats it like a mantra, like it’s actually about the violence of man when (as a few dissenting news reports in the movie and the creepy dude points out) it’s actually about removing societies undesirables. The thing is, in the end, everyone is undesirable to someone and unless you’re powerful enough to be exempt, like the govt, the laws you promote or get rich off of will effect you. It’s not a perfect movie but most aren’t…
    BTW, I will totally be a new, regular reader. Critters references are way too rare these days.

  • thefraze

    Great points – and I agree with the idea that these characters were cliché or archetypes, I just wish the film would have taken a firmer stand on those ideas and brought them to the forefront instead of suppressing them with “oh this rich family actually isn’t so bad, they have a conscious” and trying to garner the audience’s sympathy when bad things start to happen.

    Those ideas, however, did resurface once the neighbors showed up – I just wish it would have more consistent (and more present) throughout the movie – and thanks for reading, and yes – Critters is awesome!

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