The Purge’s plot goes a little something like this. In the future, the United States’ unemployment and crime rates have reached an all-time low. In order to offset this, the government as marked as single night of the year, a 12-hour period, in which all crime is legal. It is time reserved for citizens to act on their hateful, negative feelings, so that they may be civil, mostly normal functioning people for the remainder of the year. James Sandin, his wife Mary, and their children Adelaide and Max, don’t participate in “The Purge”, but instead stay home, locking up and securing their house from top to bottom. But, when Max lets a bloody stranger into their house, a vagrant on the run from a group of wealthy purgers who want to kill him, the Sandins are thrust into a fight for all their lives.
Running at a brisk eight-five minutes, The Purge gets to the point fast. Only about three minutes of screen-time are spent outside the Sandin’s home. The performances are what sell The Purge. Lena Heady, currently best known for playing the uber-villainess Cersei Lannister on the television series Game of Thrones, plays Mary Sandin, a woman who is the polar opposite of Lannister. Her acting here is every bit as intense yes, only her intentions are good and Mary’s maternal propensities are apparent, not to mention Max and Adelaide actually look as if they could be her children, which helps.
Ethan Hawke, as James Sandin, gives his usual best. The nerve-racking scene in which he annihilates three astoundingly psychotic purgers is a standout. Edwin Hodge plays the Bloody Stranger. It is unfortunate Hodge’s role is never given a proper name, but it doesn’t make the character any less impactful, likable, and interesting to watch.
What strengthens The Purge is it doesn’t do what you think it is going to do, a commendable and uncommon trait. Characters die at points you don’t expect and certain characters live that you don’t think will. Just when we thought we’ve basically seen it all in the home invasion subgenre, The Purge comes along to give us a large dose of suspense-laden story that is exquisitely uncomfortable. It’s even a notch better than the The Strangers, another home invasion film from 2008, if only for it not being nearly as aggressively dour as that film. Though The Purge’s final twist isn’t completely earned, given the movie’s very quick setup, the vicious performances that follow prevent such development from losing most of its heft.
In spite of its limited character development and some unimaginative dialogue, The Purge excels by way of its intense performances from the majority of its cast, Heady, Hawke and Hodge specifically, and a stirring concept that points to a frightening future that, frankly, doesn’t seem that far-fetched. Produced on a budget of just three million dollars, The Purge is quite well made and as thrillers go, it has a tautness and air of impending doom that makes it an irresistible newcomer to the horror genre.