In the near future, the New Founding Fathers have created a risque, drastic solution to America’s problem with crime and poor economy. They believe that if every American is given the opportunity to purge their lives of the criminal impulses they harbor, the country will become more prosperous. Thus they create the Purge, a 12-hour period held once a year in which all crime is legal. All crime.
The Purge opens with grainy footage of Purge nights from previous years. Set over a soothing instrumental track, the recordings feature strings of violence, vandalism, and robbery. Then the audience is introduced to the Sandins, parents James and Mary (Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey) and their children Zoey and Charlie, an upper class family living in a suburban McMansion who discuss their days over Carb-free dinners. Though they don’t participate, the Sandins support the Purge, and the annual event doesn’t bother them because their house is equipped with a state-of-the-art security system that will lock down and keep them safe. After questioning his parents about the Purge, Charlie helps a homeless man begging for sanctuary from a group of people who are trying to kill him. This displeases the Purgers who offer the Sandins an ultimatum: send the homeless man out to them, or they will enter the house and kill the family.
The Sandins are left with a life and death dilemma. Do they force the man seeking shelter in their home outside to his certain death or take their chances with the group of young “very educated guys and gals” armed with guns and machetes? Their situation forces James and Mary to face the reality of the Purge that they support. While they had previously sat back and watched Purge events with the confidence that the country is better by allowing people to indulge their criminal tendencies now they must face the horror of being in the thick of that violence.
The Purge is a socioeconomic story about the haves vs. the have nots, the rich vs. the poor, the educated vs. the uneducated. The theory behind The Purge could provide inexhaustible hours of conversation on what lengths we are willing to go to for prosperity as well as the dichotomy between the wealthy and the poor. However, the movie falls short. The slim running time of 85 minutes barely covers this dilemma, instead offering brief conversations on morality amid light weight horror. By the end of the movie, the Sandins have faced several Purge scenarios, but most happen too quickly to effectively produce a visceral reaction from the audience. Instead of a slow burn of terror, the 12-hour period is rushed to its conclusion. Adding to that, the Sandin children consistently make bad decisions and have a penchant for wandering off that is beyond frustrating for viewers. What saves The Purge is the fresh premise and great performances by Headey and Hawke.
What it boils down to is this: The Purge is decent but it could’ve, and should’ve, been awesome. Perhaps its sequel, The Purge: Anarchy (in theaters now) will expand on the issues glossed over in the first movie as it explores an urban setting.
The Purge is rated R, written and directed by James DeMonaco. Along with Hawke and Headey, the movie stars Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, and Rhys Wakefield. The DVD special features include the featurette “Surviving the Night: The Making of The Purge” as well as previews for other films. It can be found at most stores for $15.