Directed by: James DeMonaco
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey
Back in the 80’s there were many low budget socially or politically charged science fiction films. These films were message driven, kind of the evolution of the grindhouse films of the 70’s. The premise of these films was generally flawed in some way but entertaining enough to get people watching. Some examples are The Fortress, Lockout, and to a more successful degree Escape from New York. The Purge has a retro sort of feeling reminiscent of those films.
In the future the United States is at its most prosperous point in history. After suffering major rises in crime and a tragic recession the government came up with a way to get the country back on track: a purge. If people would just behave all year and participate in the growth of the country for 12 hours one day a year all laws are suspended and emergency services are shut down. Anyone wishing to commit virtually any crime could do so. This premise feels like The Hunger Games on steroids. Instead of everyone watching the chosen kill each other everyone who wants to can literally get out and just do the thieving, raping or killing they want to do. The idea is definitely a high concept one but it’s one that allows for drama and suspense and of course to deliver a message.
Ethan Hawke plays James Sandin a father that successfully sells home security systems that are meant to protect families from the purge, to give them a secure place to wait out the 12 hours. His family is settling in for a night of watching purge events on TV and waiting it out. Things change when Sandin’s daughter opens the security doors to let a man inside the house that is being chased by a gang of young people looking to cleanse their souls through a purge. They give the Sandin family a limited amount of time to get the man out of their house or they will come inside and kill everyone. From here the drama and suspense begins. The suspense is fairly well done. The problem is that the drama is a failure.
At a point when this family should unite against a potentially dangerous man inside the house and a dangerous group of people outside the Sandin kids fight against their parents and make dumb mistakes, even for kids. It could be argued that the family is so splintered because they’ve become so completely desensitized to the world in which they live and what the purge actually means. The problem is that this possible answer for what the kids do can only be guessed at; it’s never completely defined in the story. As the movie progresses the story just implodes in on itself. With that said there are some redeeming elements to the film. Some twists are telegraphed early on while others happen unexpectedly. The main villain played by Rhys Wakefield is entertaining and really easy to hate. It’s nice to see Lena Headey be a bad ass and still get to be attractive. Her last few films found her as a drug addled rough ex-prostitute (Dredd) and a mom fighting for her family on the run and always needing a shower on TV (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).
The Purge is a second run film or even a rental only for sure. If you appreciate campy 80’s message driven sci-fi you should eventually give this one a look.