The Purge is a horror/thriller film directed and written by Jame DeMonaco, his associated works include The Negotiator (1998), Assault on Precinct 13 (2005), Skinwalkers (2006), and TV series such as Crash and The Kill Point. The film stars Ethan Hawke (Training Day, 2001 and Daybreakers, 2009) and Lena Headey (300, 2007 and Dredd, 2012). The film’s premise revolves around an intruder breaking into James Sandin’s (Ethan Hawke) gated community during the yearly lockdown of The Purge, where for one night, all crime is deemed legal. When the intruder yells out for help, it begins a sequence of events that threatens to tear a family apart.
The film takes place in the year 2022, the United States has become “a nation reborn”, where both crime and unemployment rates are at an all-time low. To ensure these successes are maintained, the government has instated an annual 12-hour time period called “The Purge”, during which people can vent and exercise all negative emotions because all crime (including murder) is legal within this time frame. All emergency services are suspended until The Purge is over (7:00pm to 7:00am) and the only rules during this catharsis is that ‘Level 10’ government officials must remain unharmed and usage of weaponry above ‘Class 4’ is forbidden.
The film opens up with imagery and videos from the annual Purge, we’re treated with social commentary how it works, its garnered success as a system, all the while spliced with realistic haunting scenes of violent crimes from lynching, to gunfights, to an employee attacking another employee in an office and so forth. It’s a collection of isolated events of crime happening across the United States, as for one night, as stated in the new doctrine all crime is legal during The Purge.
The film cuts to black and the next scene is a suburban neighborhood as James Sandin (played by Ethan Hawke) is driving home from work while on a conference call with the company he works for. James has just been named the top salesmen for the fiscal year, selling high-end security systems to homes designed around home protection for The Purge. He’s excited by the news, telling his secretary thank you for her hard work and everything they’ve done has been a team effort, wishing her finally a safe night. Along the way home he greets his neighbors as they greet him, reminding them to lock up and be safe, reassuring everyone a pleasant evening despite the terrors ahead. We then cut to Mary Sandin (played by Lena Headey) who is at home patiently waiting for her husband to come home. Along the way we are introduced to her children Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane). Charlie doesn’t understand the necessities of the night, albeit curious, and questions his own parent’s non-desires to purge. Zoey is a rebellious young adult, who despite her father’s wishes is still seeing her boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller), which has caused an obvious rift for her personally.
The plan is to enjoy a normal evening as per usual in the Sandin household, all adding to the tempered setup of once again, what is to come. Henry who has snuck into the house is urged to leave by Zoey to get home safe before The Purge starts, exits from her balcony window. Not before the two look into backyard of a nearby house, as a neighbor is visibly seen sharpening a large machete. Henry states “someone’s getting ready to purge tonight.” In one last preparation for the night, Mary goes outside to place blue flowers at the front of the house, the blue flowers symbolize a respect and support towards The Purge and as such has become as customary as waving an American flag. She runs into her neighbor, they exchange pleasantries as Mary asks her if she’s going to be hosting her annual Purge party. She declines insisting it will just be a quiet night, she presents Mary homemade cookies, while further discussing the neighborhood gossip which has seemingly included the Sandin family. Due to their recent extension on their house, which the neighborhood has jealously said is a result of the neighborhood itself paying for, due to her husband selling them all security systems. Mary takes it in stride and heads into her home, despite the obvious tension and what should be perceived as random normal human behavior.
And that’s the setup for the film, presenting a series of obvious events and situations where by actions present and by individuals throughout the film breeds a genuine level of mistrust. Especially amplified given the premise of The Purge in what it dictates for humanity. The Purge as a film, if it has any success, feeds on the necessity to show the worst in people, the scenarios which may be gruesomely imagined but never exercised. The reasons or motives are allowed to be petty and undiscerning, the fact that a civilized society has allowed one night of violence to be okay for catharsis is questionable in itself. The film tries to push the boundaries of who we are as people, while doing its best to balance the simple ideology of good versus bad. I think in the end for myself it’s still debatable if I liked this movie or didn’t. There is indeed a level of emotional investment, seeded anger, disbelief, but I think more so frustration of the actions which take place over the 12 hour period of The Purge.
The film itself will find incredible success, due to its extremely low budget of $3 million. And it’s proof positive where cinema can be compelling when presenting a concept that is alluringly grotesque but contained. The Purge works to describe the solitary events of the characters it gives us for one night and in that same stead, if it spawned sequels it would be unsurprising – depicting other moments in the night. In reality, the film plays to a shock value which is expected and despite murderous acts of survival it is an incredibly difficult mindset to wrap around. The film isn’t about crossing a line, the line has already been crossed and how the story unfolds is that of the night of The Purge. You either are an active participant purging or you’re in the other group of society, waiting the night out.
And that sentiment itself is the movie. From start to finish it’s a question of seeing the sunrise in the morning and hearing the public sirens announcing the end of The Purge. Its pure survival and everything associated with that. The only difference is you know it’s coming and you can actively prepare for it. The film merely takes the audience for a ride and we’re helpless. If ever a genre for this film existed, assumedly it’s just the intrigue of the premise which is what got me in the theatre. That’s the only recommendation I can give. On a whole there are subtleties which left more frustration than anything else, it’s not to say I enjoyed the movie, in some ways I did and didn’t. But the general situations of how the film unfolds make me question its value, especially when simple obvious and correct decisions aren’t made which result in catastrophic results.
In the end, The Purge is a genuine commentary of “what could be” and offers a candid alternate future where success is measured in a manner foreign to how normal society is today. It’s sordid and unacceptable, but in the same stead, you can’t look away even though you know you should.
I give The Purge a 6 out of 10