Purge, The Review: A Strangely Satisfying Binge
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The Purge Review: Binge On This

By Agent Bedhead | Film Reviews | June 8, 2013 | Comments ()


The Purge follows through upon an interesting (if not wholly original) premise that initially sparks intrigue followed almost immediately by a knee-jerk response: "That's so stupid! That could never happen!" If that's the attitude one holds before even watching the movie, then there's probably no way you'd change your mind. Still, this movie might look like a shoddily-constructed piece of social propaganda, but it's really a fairly solid home-invasion thriller that delivers appropriate comeuppance to every character involved -- although the latter aspect of the movie is ultimately more satisfying than the premise itself.

The plot is relatively basic and involves our society in the near future (2022, to be precise) after taking very drastic measures to curb unemployment and societal unrest. According to various "experts" quoted on news networks at the beginning of the narrative, lawmakers were forced to cope with the not unlikely situation of a quadruple-dip recession and a stock market crash. The nebulous powers that be came up with a last-ditch effort in the form of an annual evening to "unleash the beast" within; that is, to provide citizens with a 12-hour window during which all crime -- even murder, rape, and burglary -- is perfectly legal. Supposedly, this "easy" fix has lowered the unemployment rate to 1% and all but eliminated violence in our society.

If one thinks about it too much, the idea seems perfectly ridiculous, but it's easy to see how an economy would be stimulated by purge protection services as well as the necessary preparation and cleanup of the purges themselves. The very ugly side of the equation, of course, is that this system favors the only those rich enough to protect themselves. The government has put forth the explanation that the purge functions as a catharsis to release societal aggression within all of us, but the movie explicitly wonders whether the purge is merely about money and is truly geared towards eliminating the poor and defenseless, who are essentially a drain upon society's resources. It sounds like a wishfully lofty premise for a film to execute, but it's not carried out in a complex manner. Furthermore, describing this movie as an allegory would require that the film's narrative presents both a literal and a symbolic meaning. Yet The Purge doesn't mess around with a hidden message at all. Instead, we are bluntly handed everything in bold print. Allegory, no. Satire, sure.

The film opens with a series of purge feeds from recent years past (for instance, 2019 in Shawnee, Oklahoma). Once The Purge truly begins, the field of scope is narrowed to the crime of murder, and the film becomes the story of how the well-to-do Sandin family copes with a yearly purge gone very bad. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) has carved out a very lucrative living by selling high-end, ultra-expensive home security systems. His complacent wife, Mary (Lena Headey), does not question why her family had such an amazing year that they were able to add a new wing onto their already outrageously luxurious home. Their daughter, Zoey (Adelaide Kane), finds the purge to be an annoyance; her greatest concern is that her dad doesn't like her boyfriend. Their son, Charlie (Max Burkholder), is a very sensitive and brainy (robot-building) teenager who questions the entire "holiday" and is troubled by his family's attitude towards legalized killing.

At this point in the movie, the parents are staunch believers in the efficacy of the tradition: "You don't remember how bad it was, Charlie. The poverty, the crime. This night saved our country." After making uncomfortable small talk at the dinner table, the family settles down into "lock down" mode to ride out the evening, but then Charlie makes the fateful decision to offer asylum to a nameless stranger (Edwin Hodge) when a band of rich-kid purgers, led by an also-nameless douche (Rhys Wakefield), targets him. The ghouls wear masks because the purge has become much like Halloween for a-holes, and the effect works to unsettle the family and the audience as well.

This social and political setting merely serves as the framework for what is essentially a tense and effective home-invasion story. From the moment the threat upon the Sandins' home is made, the family quickly realizes that their sense of security was illusory and that their "99% safe" home, clearly, is not an impenetrable fortress. Much of the action takes place in the pale moonlight, and the ridiculousness of this family's excess can be found in the mere fact that they are inept at locating the stowaway as demanded by the band of purgers. If and when they do find him, they must decide whether or not his life is worth saving for the sake of their own. Lots of violence and moderate bloodshed shall be had, and a suspense-filled ride takes place for about 45 minutes. There's a satisfying little twist at the end too, and I was pleased to discover that my prediction of the ending was way off the mark.

Again, this film is very obvious and literal in its intent. Of course the stranger is black. Of course he's homeless. Of course he's a tag-wearing veteran. And of course he risked his life for our fair country, and this is how society thanks him -- by labeling him as "a homeless pig" and, therefore, a worthy target for our lanky, James Spader-esque (from Pretty in Pink, natch) lead villain. Yet if you're expecting this horror movie to make grand and eloquent statements about class warfare, violence, and the inherent evil of humans, you're out of luck. However, if you're looking for an admittedly preposterous yet convincingly acted and tensely drawn thriller, then purge away to your depraved heart's content.

Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • F'mal DeHyde

    The insurance industry would never condone this, imagine the property damage just from arsonists.

  • Tracer Bullet

    Seems like the movie has it backwards. Criminals typically kill for a reason--money, respect, terriory, etc. So if that kind of crime has been mostly eliminated, The Man is an obvious target, especially in a society with high income disparity. You're not waiting a year to bus' a cap in the muthafucka who's trying to take your corners, but you might wait a year to target the district manager who laid you off the same year he got a seven-figure bonus.

  • muchsarcasm

    The idea that rich purgers would somehow be able to survive 12 hours in a gun-infested area better than the poor is laughable on its face.

  • overandout

    Yeah, this was my main problem with the premise.

  • Joseph Howe

    Economy would not be stimulated, this is the "broken window fallacy"

  • John W

    I saw it. I hate the idea of Lena Headey being broke.

    All I wanted to do was beat the shit out of the two children. Especially the son.

    I'm watching Transformers Revenge of The Fallen right now and compared to it, The Purge is Citizen Kane.

  • BlackRabbit

    After watching the highly entertaining Dredd last night, seeing this would probably destroy my mind. THAT Lena would have had the preppies begging inside five minutes.

  • Robert

    I thought the twist ending was telegraphed way too hard in the beginning. It was part of the really transparent style of the film. Everything was super obvious but had great technical execution. It looked really good, sounded great, and felt scary in all the right places. Horror fans will walk away pretty satisfied.

  • Fresh Chicken Eggs

    I guess I gave the movie too much thought. I went in thinking it would be dumb, yet fun. Midway through I realized I had a WTF look that I couldn't remove from my face.

    Why anyone did anything in this movie was beyond my comprehension.

  • Palaeologos

    I really enjoyed this film, despite its faults (the horror cliches, the flat characters). I agree with the general critical sentiment that the premise (which I feel is solid and interesting) craves a lot more exploration than the film delivers, but what was in the movie was more than enough to hold my interest. I think it will be more appreciated with time.

    Watching it, I was not a little reminded of another Ethan Hawke film, "Daybreakers", which also took a fascinating idea (a planet ruled by vampires with a persecuted human minority) but failed to fully exploit its satirical potential. "The Purge" is better though, IMO.

  • Skyler Durden

    Yeah, I saw this yesterday. It was fine. And yeah, It had the potential for being a great allegory in more capable hands. The one point that I thought was effective was the commentary on our willingness to "go with" terrible decisions just because they were issued by the people in charge. The blue flowers seemed like an obvious shout-out to the yellow magnet ribbons that peppered every other car a few years ago. It's easy to stand behind something when it doesn't affect you personally.

    My biggest annoyance was the gang's fixation on getting this ONE GUY. Why are you wasting your time on one guy? You only have 12 hours. Let it go, people.

  • PDamian

    Myself, I enjoyed this tremendously. Yes, the premise is somewhat wonky and overly simplistic. But it was very well acted, and quite suspenseful at times, and there are a couple of twists that make the film very worthwhile.

    Full disclosure: I went to an international college prep school, and I have direct acquaintance of many preppy sociopaths like the character that menaces the Sandins. There's a strong possibility that I enjoyed this so much because it brought back memories -- mostly of my cousins beating the shit out of one particular douche who threatened my sister with rape. Hmmmm ...

  • duckandcover

    I saw this last night and loved how simplistic it was. It was a home invasion horror story. I even made the comment to my friend that this had to be Strangers 2 with the similarities in the purgers' masks with those from that movie.

    There was a severe lack of reaction to the fact that Charlie let the guy in the house in the first place. There was freaking out, yeah, but no one focused on the kid or even, as I was hopping, gave him a good slap right across the face. It was something that really stood out to me. Yeah, it could be explained that they had other things to worry about, but I'm just not buying that neither parent doled out something, anything, to prove to this kid that what he did was wrong.

  • ViciousTrollop

    But why is The Doctor after this poor guy?

  • senecafalls

    I think there's a fundamental difference, perhaps a gene sequence or something, that separates me from the type of person who would even be slightly interested in seeing this schlock.

  • The great thing is that not seeing The Purge will leave you two additional hours to sniff your own farts and tell the rest of us how great they smell.

  • Jezzer

    I understand the snotty pretension gene makes it really difficult to find things to watch on Netflix.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    How superior of you. I think the movie sounds like fun.

  • John G.

    despite your multiple attempts to discourage me, I think i will see this.

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