“The Purge” Movie Review

     Watching “The Purge”, I was immediately reminded of John Carpenter’s classic “Escape From New York” in that the film opens with a simple statement as to the way things are in this dystopian near future.  Both films tell us how crime is now handled and how it has effected society.  “Escape From New York” tells us all criminals are sent to what was Manhattan island and is now a maximum security prison.  “The Purge” handles things in a more psychological manner, instead presuming all humans need to release their anger at some point in order to avoid random crimes of passion.  To accomplish this in the year 2022, society now allows for a government sponsored “Purge” once a year.  For 12 hours of that day, all crime is legal, including murder, and all emergency services and police are on stand down.  As we are told early in the story, the result is a less than 1% crime rate in the United States.

     We are introduced quickly to the premise of the story and the characters who will occupy it’s setting.  In a sprawling upper class gated community, James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) works for a home security company who installs bank vault like systems for people who want maximum home protection, especially when The Purge comes around once a year.  When James arrives home from work on the night of The Purge, everything appears as though they have done this many times before and are set in an annual routine.  His wife, Mary (Lena Headey), stays home and looks after the couple’s children, Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane).  Early on, there are hints of disconnect amongst the group which figure into the story later.  Charlie is antisocial, with long hair, an interest in building his own electronics, and a penchant for hiding in “secret spots”.  Zoey dates a boy much older than her who is not on good terms with her father, thus she is constantly sneaking him into her bedroom.

     When the clock strikes 8PM, the family huddles in a room surrounded by multiple computer monitors showing the multiple angle view outside their home.  With a touch of a button, large slabs of steel barricade every window and the family is deemed safe for the next 12 hours.  Of course, nothing goes as planned, when Charlie disarms the system at the site of a man running for his life from an angry mob.  When the man runs into the home for safety, the mob surrounds Sandin’s home and demands they send the man they were chasing outside, or else.  This is the basic setup and where it goes I’ll leave for your viewing.  The leader of the mob, named in the opening credits as “Polite Stranger” (Rhys Wakefield) is an interesting character with his smiling clown mask peering into the Sandin’s front door camera.  The speech he gives, telling them to send out the “swine” they wish to Purge is truly creepy as it is delivered so matter of fact, much like a stump speech on CNN, but with a hint of evil.

     I was also reminded of another Carpenter classic, “Assault On Precinct 13”, as the film moved into it’s second act.  Low and behold, director James DeMonaco was the screenwriter for the 2005 remake of Carpenter’s film (which also starred Hawke) and it is clear he takes his cues from the influences of Carpenter’s films.  In many ways, the Polite Stranger and his gang are like the Michael Myers character as they stalk the Sandin’s through dark hallways, wearing masks and preferring edged weapons to firearms.  Obviously, DeMonaco hasn’t broken any new ground with “The Purge”, but he certainly has made a solid genre film which continues in the tradition of the filmmakers he is clearly emulating.  Like all of Carpenter’s films, “The Purge” is narrow in scope and  squeezes every penny out of it’s reported $3 million budget.

     Now can you imagine what society would be like if this were the solution to the skyrocketing crime rate?  I have to figure the damage done nationwide in 12 hours would cost billions.  It doesn’t appear that people in the film really focus on property crime when the 12 hour spree begins.  Those who take part in the annual ritual are clearly out for blood and some of the naysayers point out the government allows this in order to get rid of the poor.  The man in the film (credited as “Bloody Stranger”) who is let into the Sandin’s home by Charlie is black and he is being chased by white people who profess to be rich and well educated.  At it’s core, one might think this premise is something ripped from today’s headlines rather than future.  DeMonaco never really comments on this through his script, instead opting to let the audience try and stew over it and figure it out for themselves.  Probably a wise idea since a horror/thriller isn’t really the place for a hidden political agenda.  GRADE: B-