June 7, 2013
than Hawke as James Sandin
Lena Headey as Mary Sandin
Max Burkholder as Charlie Sandin
Adelaide Kane as Zoey Sandin
Edwin Hodge as Bloody Stranger
Rhys Wakefield as Polite Stranger
It’s 2021 in the United States of America, and the last several years have not been kind – unemployment, crime and poverty have run rampant and the country reached the brink of existence until… The Purge was conceived. “The New Founders” of this great Nation have devised a program where for 12 hours every year all violent crime, including murder, is legal and encouraged. The theory is that if human beings can act out their darkest impulses and hatreds for even the shortest time, all of society will benefit, and indeed it has. Unemployment is now 1% and poverty and violent crime are almost nonexistent. All of this is a good thing, right?
James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) was most certainly at the right place at the right time when he became a salesman for home security systems meant to protect those inside the walls of their abode from the murderous mayhem of the annual Purge. In just the last year alone Sandin succeeded in selling high-end security systems to most of the inhabitants of his McMansion-style gated community, earning enough to add on a huge renovation to his already palatial home, and wile away the hours trying to decide which yacht he will buy for the upcoming Summer boating season. The neighbors do seem a bit testy that the Sandin family is doing so well at their expense, but then it IS very important to protect one’s own castle when societies miscreants go roaming the night to cleanse themselves of negative emotions.
As the time of lockdown approaches, 7:00 PM, the steel walls descend over the openings of the doors and windows and cameras provide a clear view of the street and yard from all possible angles. Sandin’s young son Charlie (Max Burkholder) is not completely onboard with the whole concept of the Purge though, and when he sees a beaten and bloody man running for his life on one of the cameras he can’t help but disarm the security system and bring him inside. This is just the start of the Purge nightmare for the Sandin family, as they must contend with a rogue interloper inside the house that can’t be located, an angry boyfriend of daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) who wants to “talk” to her father about being banned from dating her, and a violent band of murders outside who want the man Charlie rescued to be released so they may exact their Purge justice.
The Purge is a great film for a number of reasons. From the standpoint of horror The Purge is in line with some of the home invasion elements of The Strangers; unwanted violent guests inside someone’s home wearing masks and killing with abandon. Whenever there is evil lurking behind every corner in one’s own home that’s a scary concept. Then The Purge strays majorly from The Strangers by actually providing a back-story for why the invasion is happening in the first place, rather than it being simply a random occurrence. The tension builds to molasses thick as the minutes tick down to the start of the big event, and continues to get worse as one scenario after another conspire toward certain doom for the Sandin family. All of the ingredients of good suspense horror are here, from perilous certain defeat of our heroes to family members overcoming their own limitations to save the day with heroic deeds. This film will have audiences cheering and yelling out loud. Interestingly, though, while there is plenty of violence there is not a ton of gore, nor is there really any torture as has become so in vogue in horror movies of late. I, for one, didn’t miss it.
Like many of the best horror movies, The Purge is also wrought with social and political commentary, but thankfully avoids preaching or lecturing ala Saw VI or the woeful “Masters of Horror” entry Homecoming. This film makes a political statement regarding a belief that society would be better off without the poor, and instead was more focused on the producers and wealthy capable of protecting themselves during the annual Purge. There are also some pointed thoughts shared about the petty and jealous wealthy who feel murderous hatred when a member of their community seems to be making more money than they are. The most intense of the statements address human nature itself, asserting that humans are truly nothing more than vicious animals who are better able to maintain the facade of civility if they have an “escape valve” every once in a while to express their baser instincts. As is often the case in horror where some monster or zombie forces humans to band together and isolate themselves for survival (See The Mist), the evil behavior of the humans often surpasses the most vicious acts of monsters or flesh-feasting undead, and is the most frightening. The Purge does away with the monsters being the cause, and jumps right to the unsavory elements of the human survivors.
The Purge is rounded out by some very good performances by most everyone involved, including Ethan Hawke who captures the aggressive sales guy basking in his newfound success, as well as a man who will do anything to protect his family very well. The transformation Hawke portrays as he realizes the loss of his humanity and the negative effect that is having on his family is great to see, coming across clearly in his eyes over some particularly powerful moments. Hawke does not display the same teetering on the edge of insanity that made Sinister shine, but does an incredible job nonetheless. The true standout performance is that of Rhys Wakefield, credited as simply “Polite Stranger”. Wakefield is the leader of the mask-wearing Occupy Wall street-like army intent on purging society of “homeless scum”, and has such a disturbing way about him that it would not be comfortable coming across the man in a seedy bar or isolated alley. While his face is smiling, his eyes betray a psychosis that only stays out of the Federal prison system because of his once-a-year melee against those who annoy him. It is likely we will be hearing more from Wakefield in the future.
Those who enjoy intense invasion horror for horror’s sake will find the suspenseful tracking, creepy characters, horrifying masks and bloody retribution highly satisfying, and aren’t likely to be too distracted by the fact that The Purge is actually working to be quite deep. On the other hand, those horror freaks that are most attracted to terror with a message are sure to find satisfaction for their hearts as well as their minds. The Purge will stick with you long after the credits roll, both with a) angst about home intruders, as criminals in “real life” seem to get more and more bold, and b) a pondering about the very nature of the human soul, and how it enables “a”.