MRR Review: "The Purge"

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

MRR Review: "The Purge"

-- Rating: R (strong action and bloody violence throughout, and some strong language)
Length: 85 minutes
Release Date: June 7, 2013
Directed by: James DeMonaco
Genre: Thriller

"The Purge" is set a decade into the future in a virtually utopian American society ruled by a cult-like theistic group called the New Founding Fathers. Under this governing body, unemployment, poverty, and crime are practically nonexistent. But underlying this perfect society is a sinister ritual that, one night per year, breaks the tranquility of what would otherwise be paradise. For 12 hours during the annual event, all crime is legal and all emergency services are shut down. These hours are the Purge.

The movie focuses on James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), his wife Mary (Lena Heady), and their two children Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder). James works for a security company that manufactures home invasion security systems designed to keep decent citizens safe during the annual crime spree. Essentially, James Sandin and his company derive their wealth from the Purge, as is apparent by Hawke's ambivalent portrayal of James Sandin. Indeed, at one point, young Max Burkholder, who brings the solemn nature of his role in Parenthood, sets the tone by asking his parents, "Why don't you guys kill someone tonight?" His father answers piously, "Because we don't feel the need to." In that one scene, Hawke does a great job of using his character's attitude to show how easily society justifies the Purge. By taking a condescending approach to the criminals, this society can absolve itself of any responsibility. The movie satirizes the present-day attitudes of so many who keep asserting their beliefs are just while others despair. After all, during the Purge, lives will be destroyed somewhere.

Arming their elaborate security system and tucking themselves into their mansion for the night, the Sandins reassure each other by invoking the fact that they have survived all the previous Purges. They are certain to be safe in their fortress on this night too. All is going smoothly until young Charlie hears a man outside the home screaming and pleading for help. After wavering for a moment and then feeling empathy for the man, which is characteristic of "The Purge," Charlie disarms the security system and opens his front door, allowing the victim to escape inside the home. But no good deed goes unpunished.

Charlie's father admonishes, "Why did you let him in our home? We have no idea who's after him." Lo and behold, a gang of the creepiest, maladjusted miscreants is chasing the stranger. The gang swarms the Sandin yard. The gang leader (Rhys Wakefield) approaches the front door, rings the bell, and announces, "Our target of this year's purge is hiding in your home. You have one hour to find him and give him to us, or we'll kill all of you." The next words out of his mouth could have been, "Warriors, come out and play." This scene gave off the same eerie, hunted vibe.

"The Purge" brings to mind the short story, "The Lottery," by Shirley Jackson. That story is given to schoolchildren to read, and no-one ever forgets it. Just like Tessie Hutchinson crying about injustice and her misfortune as she was being stoned by the townspeople of Hunky-Dory, USA; the Sandins are suddenly being persecuted, almost as if they have nothing to do with the Purge's existence. They are merely innocent victims. This hits upon the moral of the blood-and-guts story. The United States of today can only become a place like the one described in "The Purge" a mere 10 years from now if citizens allow it. "The Purge" is a portrayal of how James DeMonaco sees Americans of today, and he may not be far from the mark.

The Sandins spend the night clawing for survival, not just for their lives but also for the kinds of souls they have convinced themselves they possess. DeMonaco does a good job of nailing down the dilemma of blindly kowtowing to money-worshipping elitists. Rather than spending ten years helping each other out of the muck, the movie's Americans chose to develop a society like the one in "The Purge." As the gang begins to penetrate the mansion's fortifications, the Sandins find themselves fighting their own transformation into criminals as much as they are fighting the gang members.

After years of movies with lengthy plot setups, character identifications, and needy connections to reality, it is a nice change to watch a flick that is outrageously extraordinary. Like movies of old, "The Purge" forces viewers to switch off the part of the brain that needs to reason things out. It is the kind of movie that begs people to grab some popcorn, kill the lights, and take any opportunity to scare the person next to them every time an actor catches a glimpse of something in a mirror.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5