REVIEW: The Purge [2013]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 85 minutes | Release Date: June 7th, 2013 (USA)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director(s): James DeMonaco
Writer(s): James DeMonaco

“Release the Beast”

Welcome to the new United States of America, complete with booming economy, non-existent crime rates, and the 28th Amendment to the Constitution that ensures its longevity. After decades of extreme violence and poverty overtaking our streets, safety became a pipe dream and freedom a false construct no longer meaningful in the face of a self-destructing populace led by a majority of criminal maniacs reinventing the status quo. Well, if you can’t beat them the only option left is to join in the carnage by letting your own aggressive beast from within out to play. This is The Purge: a twelve-hour emergency services shutdown where every citizen has the right to steal, rape, and murder to his/her heart’s content in exchange for unequivocal peace and harmony during the 8,748-hour wait until the next release.

Dare I say it’s a pretty sound concept on paper? Much like certain aspects of Socialism and Fascism, I honestly wouldn’t mind some drastic action being put into effect on a bad day. What works in concept, however, very rarely translates to actual practice whether the results are favorable or not. What succeeds for those enforcing the laws annihilates the portions of society they were built to oppress. This is why genocide and fear mongering is born at the hands of secret police in the name of a utopia that can never exist. And as the Nazis showed in the aftermath of World War II, remorse isn’t a concept those in power understand until they’re overthrown. If no one stands against injustice, it’s easy to brainwash a scared people into believing truly irredeemable horrors are God’s will.

Writer/director James DeMonaco has pretty much created a microcosm example of this Hitler state on American soil in The Purge. The rich get richer as they build and utilize futuristic bunker technology on their homes while the poor are eradicated by those brave enough to go out hunting in order to cleanse their souls (and the streets). While we’re given a brief glimpse of this unavoidably obvious delineation of social standing, wealth distribution, and therefore personal safety to ensure the few viewers who didn’t understand its implicit presence beforehand now do, DeMonaco isn’t looking to give us a political satire of governmental extremism as much as the moment one family’s eyes are opened to the disparity between their existence and those outside their gated community. We always choose to ignore until the danger rings our doorbell.

That brings us to the Sandin family of which patriarch James (Ethan Hawke) has just found out his domestic security sales team made the most money this year in the company. A huge chunk of that profit came from his neighbors, a middle-aged bunch hiding resentment behind faux thanks as their wellbeing earns James and Mary (Lena Headey) an addition to their home. Whatever boils under the surface of their too-saccharine exchanges of “Safe Night”, however, is meaningless once the siren blares for purge freedom. Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane) are safe inside, Mary has finished cooking a carb-less dinner, and James punches in his code to send the metal barriers down over every door and window of his palatial estate. Unsurprisingly—considering it’s a horror flick—the supposed quiet doesn’t last long.

DeMonaco spices his over-arching morality tale concerning the merits and casualties of utilitarianism with a perfect amount of normal familial strife. Unfortunately for those involved, simple disagreements like a father forbidding his daughter to see her too old boyfriend (Tony Oller’s Henry) don’t need to be settled with strong words and acquiescence when anything and everything is at both parties’ disposal during the purge. So even if Zoey doesn’t comprehend Henry’s motivations for sneaking back into her home, we do. Mix this looming confrontation with Charlie’s ill-fated decision to let a stranger (Edwin Hodge) in courtesy of his youthful inability to process one man’s life being worth less than his family’s and the fun begins. Well, after a group of masked and psychologically unhinged debutantes stop by to ask for Hodge’s release, of course.

What will James do? Risk his wife and children’s lives for a man hell-bent on doing whatever’s necessary to survive the night? Or give him over to the magnificently creepy leader (Rhys Wakefield) of the hoard outside? How will this decision impact his family’s view of him and are they capable of going along either way once the danger escalates? This is the story’s beauty and why I believe The Purge is both an intelligent commentary on mankind’s slow but steady descent into hell as well as an entertainingly bloody thriller. Yes there’s violence and a requisite heavy body count during this government sanctioned free-for-all, but there’s also room for an emotionally poignant sense of morality and humanity for those willing to acknowledge the costs so many others are quick to sweep under the rug.

DeMonaco injects a few nice surprises both in plot twists and deaths—some easily hypothesized and others a bit more intriguing. Hawke is great as the somewhat smarmy, Kool-Aid drinking salesman who believes monetary stability is enough despite profiting off the invisible police state erected around him; Headey retains her usual toughness while also letting some maternal instincts and palpable fear in; Hodge provides pathos as an almost silent victim with the most obvious trajectory of all; and Wakefield pretty much steals the show with his over-the-top villainy. It’s disappointing a sequel is forthcoming because this iteration works as a result of keeping the intricacies of its expositional history under wraps. Sometimes success should be left alone and not risk being tainted by an excess of information better left hidden or creating watered-down, unnecessary facsimiles.

[1] Psychotic celebrants prepare to attack the Sandin family in “The Purge”, a speculative thriller that follows one family over the course of a single night to see how far they will go to protect themselves when the vicious outside world breaks into their home. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures Copyright: © 2013 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[2] James Sandin (ETHAN HAWKE) watches and waits in “The Purge”, a speculative thriller that follows one family over the course of a single night to see how far they will go to protect themselves when the vicious outside world breaks into their home. Credit: Daniel McFadden / Universal Pictures Copyright: © 2013 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[3] Charlie Sandin (MAX BURKHOLDER) and his mother, Mary (LENA HEADEY), fight for their lives in “The Purge”, a speculative thriller that follows one family over the course of a single night to see how far they will go to protect themselves when the vicious outside world breaks into their home. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures Copyright: © 2013 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

2 Thoughts to “REVIEW: The Purge [2013]”

  1. Lauren

    Let’s take a moment to discuss that just the idea of this movie is freaking me out so much that I am reading your review while watching it. Naturally, I am reading in hopes of distracting myself enough so that I won’t be terrified to the point of having nightmares. Rhys Wakefield is beyond terrifying… I think it’s his smile. Also, the cavalier attitude of those out purging – I cite the girl skipping down the hallway with an axe (that was a axe, right?)- is just bone chilling! I enjoy reading your reviews! Thank you for distracting me during this difficult time (I would totally turn off the movie – unfortunately, I am not the only one watching).

    1. haha. glad to be of service, Lauren. Wakefield is totally one of the best parts. he has a good turn in a sci-fi thriller called +1 that i would recommend too.

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