Written and directed by James DeMonaco (whose credits include writing The Negotiator, the Assault on Precinct 13 remake and the 2006 werewolf flick Skinwalkers), The Purge is a fairly decent horror flick best described as an amped up home invasion thriller that takes place in the not-so-distant future.
The gist: It’s the year 2022 and the U.S. is in tip-top shape. Crime is at an all-time low. The economy is thriving. Sounds perfect, right? Well, there’s a catch (duh). In order to make the country a better place, the “new founding fathers” constituted an annual purge where once a year, for 12 hours, all crime (including murder) is entirely legal. This allows everyone the legal chance to cleanse the soul, ridding themselves of any demons or bad thoughts… for at least a year.
Hours before the purge is set to commence, super security salesman James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) comes home to his family in a delightful mood. He’s had a great year in business. Security systems are in high demand after all. He lives in a highly guarded mansion, in a highly affluent neighborhood. In his world, there’s nothing to worry about aside from a rebellious teenage daughter and some jealous neighbors. Come 7:00 pm, it’s time to lock up the house and settle in for the night.
From the get-go, we get a sense that James’s pre-teen son, Charlie, isn’t a fan of the purge. So, when Charlie spots a distressed man calling for help on his home’s security footage, he panics and lets the bloody stranger into his family’s house. We soon discover that it’s not the bloody stranger the Sandins have to worry about; it’s the ones who are hunting him that become a real problem.
For an 85 minute movie, The Purge packs in a whole lot. There are some legitimate fear-evoking moments, a few ass-kicking kills, a pretty satisfying conclusion and a touch of the ‘what would I do if I were them’ self-argument. And, in the vein of Romero, DeMonaco adds his own bit of social commentary. See, while the purge may be working its nation-strengthening magic, it’s also alienating the poor. The rich are capable of protecting themselves and ‘hunting’ where they see fit; whereas the poor simply become the prey. They make for an easy target for the bloodthirsty wealthy. Okay, maybe this is a bit heavy for a movie that was written by the guy who did Jack (yes, DeMonaco also wrote that 1996 Robin Williams movie), but he makes an interesting effort.
Sure, there were some problematic elements and/or things I would have liked to see. Example: once the family decides to defend their house, I would have been stoked to see some Kevin McCallister-style set-ups. But I guess what the filmmakers did was — dare I say it? — more realistic, less cheesy. Also… If you’ve seen the trailer or TV spots (or the image to the left), then you’ve seen the masks and I am not a fan of this ‘creepy mask’ trend. It’s getting stale, folks. We saw a well-executed trailer for You’re Next before The Purge, and lo and behold, it had its own version of the CREEPY MASK! I’m over it.
For a 2 pm matinee, the theater was fairly full. This is always a good sign for box office business. And in today’s world, if a film — particularly a horror film — pulls in a decent gross, a sequel is inevitable. Come Sunday evening, the numbers were in and The Purge had pushed past Furious 6 to the top spot at $34.1 million. Not bad…. and guess what? SEQUEL! What’s cool is that they could …. 1) continue the current story or 2) begin a new — but similar — story or 3) focus on an entirely different aspect to the purge event. There’s actually quite a bit of fun potential here.
The Purge isn’t groundbreaking; but, the movie is solid. It’s compact and dishes up some thrills, kills, slight twists and a dash of predictability (as most horror films do). Point being: just have fun with it.