The Purge (2013)
The Purge (2013)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 25 min.

Release Date: June 7th, 2013 MPAA Rating: R

Director: James DeMonaco Actors: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, Alicia Vela-Bailey




he year is 2022 and unemployment in the U.S. is at 1%. Crime is almost nonexistent, thanks to an annual “purge” in which anything is legal. Law enforcement and hospitals shut down for 12 hours, allowing the citizens of America to release their pent-up rage in any way they wish – including murder (oddly, there are almost no insinuations of torture or rape). Supposedly, this once-a-year opportunity to lash out at authority figures, upsetting acquaintances, or disgruntling employers quashes any desire to commit crimes throughout the remaining months. It contains severe acts of aggression to a single night, but it’s still emotionally scary. Although the film frequently tries to question the morality of such a ludicrous scenario, alternatingly justifying killing, condemning it, or insisting that humankind is inherently, unavoidably violent, the result is a goulash of conflicting ideas and a desperate plea for a revenge fantasy conclusion that is ultimately elusive. The actual finale is so scatterbrained it’s questionable whether any audience will be pleased.

The film starts with an overused but still effective, highly contrasting juxtaposition of brutal violence and serene orchestral music (perhaps most comparatively reminiscent to “A Clockwork Orange”) to flash credits and illustrate the setting. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) has just finished up a successful sales season for upgraded security systems, an invaluable tool for wealthier residents to protect themselves on the night of the Purge. He returns home to his family – wife Mary (Lena Headey), young son Charlie (Max Burkholder), and teenaged daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) – who each deal with the consequential evening in their own way. Charlie struggles to understand why it’s acceptable to inflict pain and damage on others, channeling some psychological issues (which are never fully examined) as reflected through a horribly disfigured toy he’s motorized into a surveillance device; Zoey rebelliously wants to continue seeing the older boy Henry (Tony Oller) who she’s forbidden from contacting; and Mary conceals a farrago of emotions on defensively protecting loved ones versus offensively countering future dilemmas.

The children’s thoughts on the Purge are particularly bizarre, considering they would have grown up knowing nothing but the socially permissible event. Talks of consequences, the economic meltdown that inspired the institution of the Purge, and political motivations pepper the continually scrutinized ethics – including a discussion with a criminologist who momentarily touches upon the idea of eradicating noncontributing members of society. The wealthy hunt the homeless for sport, while the poor strike back at executives. Family values are also analyzed to contrast the inhumanity, made more outrageous by Charlie’s actions. After the lockdown of their massive house, he lets in a wounded man begging for a place to stay, unleashing a series of events that causes extensive traumas (most failing to be addressed resolutely).

For the most part, “The Purge” is a survival horror movie in which the Sandins’ chasmal residence becomes a mousetrap of corridors and hiding spots, turned lethal when a band of masked killers come looking for the injured man. Every cliché is unearthed: children carelessly disobey orders, adults panic, characters split up and wander around in the dark, hunters stalk aggravatingly slowly, and everyone seems to achieve sudden bouts of unrealistic courage. The primary villain is given numerous scenes to demonstrate his psychopathic, merciless evilness, disregarding the belief that subtlety is generally creepier than reiteration with visual affronts to the senses.

On a fresh but disturbing note, murdering women and children seems unlikely as a method of cleansing anger, regardless of legality and opportunity. “The Purge” has a premise that can only truly work if everyone in the film believes in the setup and behaves accordingly. Their refusal (due to the script) makes it impossible for the audience to buy into the concept when multiple roles never act authentically. Perhaps it would have been more fun if some invincible, machismo hero like Bruce Willis were the star.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10