Hide yo kids, hide yo wife, and hide yo husband, cuz they purgin’ everyone out here!
Imagine one night a year where all deviant behavior was allowed, all emergency response outlets were shut down, and people were free to act on their most barbaric instincts in an attempt to release all the hate and hostility brewing inside them – that’s the concept of The Purge.
Apparently the only way for our great nation to solve overcrowding in prisons, rising crime rates, and rising unemployment rates is to let people turn into savage beasts once a year, reducing the population one homeless man at a time – hey, don’t get any ideas America. This is just a film, remember that – but with that said, I found the horror from writer/director James DeMonaco’s second feature stemming from the ferocious brutality of human nature more so than the masked killers. I mean, a government sanctioned bloodbath? Conspiracy theories aside, the concept holds a social commentary weight which isn’t easily shaken.
While the yearly Purge rages on outside and gunshots can be heard echoing in the distance, those wealthy enough sit safely in their locked-down houses that have been rigged with high-tech security systems which cover any possible entry points with metal doors. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) and his family are fortunate enough to be one of these richer families who can afford a sanctuary from unruly purgers, as the Sandins get ready to sit patiently through yet another night of hell on earth. But when a bloodied stranger appears outside their house seeking refuge from a group of purgers, James’ son Charlie (Max Burkholder) makes a grave error by disabling the security long enough for the stranger to jump inside their house. Before the Sandins know it, a group of preppy masked purgers are at their doorstep demanding the homeless “swine” being kept safely inside be given up, or they would turn their attentions on the Sandins as well. Can the Sandin family locate their new houseguest before the deranged purgers break inside their house? Or will the Sandins get to experience the Purge first-hand this year – in their own home.
As far as home invasion horror goes, The Purge absolutely earns points for creativity. It’s so simple to set up some robbery scenario where criminals break into a house and there are casualties, but to turn an entire country into some bloodthirsty nation of psychopaths for one night is much more effective. Once that siren goes off commencing the Purge, absolutely no one is safe (except high ranking officials deemed “untouchable” of course). Anarchy rules. People no longer can be viewed as humans possessing morals. Everyone becomes a threat, no one can be trusted, and worst of all, it’s a government approved idea. Scarier than masked men with shotguns is the overarching idea that America had reached such dismal levels of poverty and hardship that some tyrannical governmental system thought giving citizens one night a year to clean the streets would eliminate their problems – and it worked.
What The Purge boasted in ingenuity it counteracted with terrible horror logic though, which the most obnoxious movie audience I’ve ever had to sit in pointed out every chance they got. People do realize Ethan Hawke can’t hear their awful jokes and petty whining through the screen, right? Sorry, that’s a rant for another article, but seriously, the Sandins suffered from so many horror “d’ohs” it was hard not to yell at the screen myself. From splitting up, to airing family drama during a time of severe crisis, to making awfully predictable judgement calls (especially the children!), DeMonaco’s script sports the same cliched plot-pushing horror logic die-hard genre fans scoff at almost instantly.
Then again, can you say you’ve been stuck in a Purge? Could you make clear decisions while some kids try to torture your entire family? Probably not, but in the cinema world, the Sandin’s situational choices will have you literally sighing over and over again as you pretend to know better.
While we’re on the logical side of things, don’t expect much explanation about the night’s special festivities either. Basically all we’re told is that the Purge was set up to solve all of society’s problems, it’s working, and people have just accepted it for years. There are no historical facts about its start, no revealing names as to who started it, and more intriguingly, no mention as to if the rest of the world has adapted our nation’s newest favorite pastime. I know some people favor the “action first, story later” mentality, but for you intellectuals out there, curb your expectations now. There are rules, like only using up to a certain class of weapon and being restricted to 12 hours, but besides that, we’re left completely in the dark.
As for our players, Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey convincingly turn from sophisticated socialites to savage defenders when their family is threatened, while our assailants, led by Rhys Wakefield, provide wonderfully villainous roles which display the sick nature of The Purge perfectly. Rampaging criminals are one thing, but a group of college-age kids praising our “great nation” and its founders for letting the masses purge their souls while removing the homeless “swine” from our city streets takes the whole Purge mentality into darkly mysterious realms. These masked maniacs are seen skipping down destroyed hallways as they would through a field full of daisies on a sunny day, showing how the minds of society have reached a new level of being desensitized to violence. This makes these cult-like purgists far more menacing, terrifying, and evil, as pleasure and enlightenment are now wired directly to killing (“purification”) in their warped brains.
The Purge offers a new take on a tired genre, something horror fans aren’t exactly used to these days. DeMonaco’s socio-political assessment of where America will be in less than a decade inspires fear and warning, albeit far-fetched, but it’s nice to be treated to an actual atmospheric story instead of just another hack and slash snoozer.
With that said though, The Purge is far from a perfectly polished gem, as audiences will wonder if the Sandin family have ever seen a horror movie themselves. Surely they couldn’t have, because almost every step they make is in the wrong direction, and whether you want to give them the benefit of a frenzied mind or not, most horror fans will cite their continually poor decisions as a point of frustration.
But hell, disturbing killers, Ethan Hawke fighting women with axes, insane governments, a surprisingly satisfying ending, and one massive country-wide battle royale make The Purge a different experience worth the watch. Blessed be the Founders, now let’s all move to Canada…
The Purge offers a unique take on the home invasion sub-genre which makes for an entertaining watch thanks to a strong finish, despite sporting poor horror logic.