The Purge imagines a world where our obsession with violence has gotten so intense, that our leaders felt it was worth a shot to make it all legal for one night a year. In the world created by writer-director James DeMonaco, the result is that crime rates the other 364 days a year plummet to almost nothing.
Previewed in The Purge trailer, that is where our story begins. While commenting on our obsession with violence in America, the film also manages to find itself firmly in the home invasion subgenre of horror -- in the ilk of Panic Room. The entire house is a supposedly impenetrable fortress.
Ethan Hawke is James Sandin and as our story begins, seven years into The Purge, he has made a handsome profit off of selling security systems to individuals who seek to be prepared for absolutely anything that could come at them that one night a year where chaos rules the land. His wife Mary (Lena Headey) is preparing dinner for the family that includes a young boy and a teenage girl and by all accounts, it’s a normal night in America. Only, there is nothing typical about this at all.
As the Sandins finish their meal, they realize that the clock is about to strike 7 p.m. and it’s time to commence the annual Purge. All windows, doors and any entrances to the home are sealed behind metal so strong… all should feel safe.
That is until a few hours into the night when the youngest Sandin, Charlie, notices a man wandering the street of their neighborhood, bleeding and fleeing what he is saying is a mob. We hear the gunshots coming, creeping ever closer. Charlie cannot bear to hear the man’s pleading for help. It is being ignored by the entire ghost town-looking neighborhood. He quickly races to the control center of the house, and opens up the home. Let the horror begin…
The Purge has several things going for it. For starters, it is a fresh take on a storyline that could be quite stale. This U.S.A. with its “New Founding Fathers” seems a bit Orwellian, yet still is grounded in a future that could easily be coming our way. The film also was made for less than $3 million, an unheard of amount in Hollywood and given what we see onscreen, it sure doesn’t look like an indie film on any level. That is if you don’t count the man who is the lead, who has made a career of making indie movies, Hawke.
Yet, there are moments of the film that are downright predictable and even make you want to cover your eyes. And that is not from fear… it is from the feeling of, “I can’t watch this because I know what is coming a mile away.” For a film with such originality at its core, in the third act, it suffers from a fate that is all too familiar for these home invasion movies. However fresh the film, in the end, our The Purge review finds it concludes with more of the same.
Although... the greatest asset of the cinematic experience that is The Purge is its ability to start a conversation.
It is no surprise that violence, specifically gun violence, is a continuing sticking point for us as a society. How to handle violence is a debate that never seems to slow. The Purge argues that by meeting violence with more hostility, the overall urge to commit acts of violence will subside. But, at the same time, given how the movie plays out -- and you won’t get any spoilers here -- the same argument could be made for the other point. Look what more violence to fight violence gets you?
As told to us in our Ethan Hawke interview, both sides of the political aisle can find something to identify with and hold as a banner in the debate. That is a definite plus to The Purge, the movie that is.