THE PURGE (2013)

This Original Speculative Horror Thriller’s Premise Is So Fresh, Provocative and Worthy of Discussion That It’s Almost a Shame the Movie Isn’t Better Than It Is!

In this age of endless sequels, re-makes and re-boots, it’s a rare thing for an original, untested idea to get the green-light for production in Hollywood. It’s even rarer for a modestly budgeted little genre film like “The Purge” to be released in June amid the onslaught of mega-budget blockbusters, so it pains me to not be able to tell you that the film knocks its interesting ideas out of the park. Ultimately it doesn’t, but it comes so close to greatness that I can’t help but recommend it anyway.

I’ll go even further than that. This is a film that I would welcome sequels to. I’d like see different stories of different social groups and economic classes as they deal with the annual Purge. I think there’s a chance that sequels to this film might actually improve on the concept. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“The Purge” is set in a speculative near future where unemployment, poverty and crime eventually got so bad that the country nearly destroyed itself. A new government comes to power that institutes “The Purge.” Once a year, for 12 hours, all crime is legal. All police and medical services are shut down, and murder is not only legal, but encouraged. Everyone is allowed 12 hours to purge their darkest urges and society purges all of it’s “dead flesh” (the poor, the elderly, the sick, etc.). The Purge is working. Unemployment is down to one per cent and violent crime has nearly been eliminated. America is a shining utopia with the exception of 12 hours once a year.

We’re introduced to James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), an upper class home security salesman, who discovers he has just been promoted to “salesman of the year” on his way to his expensive gated community home just a couple of hours before the annual Purge. Sandin doesn’t participate in the Purge, but he certainly profits from it, and he encourages support of the practice to his family. It works. His family and many others have benefited greatly from the Purge.

His wife (Lena Heady) has more complex feelings about the Purge, but she’s supportive of her husband’s career. Sandin’s eldest daughter is more interested in her relationship with her older boyfriend than the night’s potential danger and violence. His youngest son, sowing the seeds of youthful rebellion, is firmly against the whole concept. The family’s difference of opinions come to a head at the dinner table just as the civic warning sirens sound the start of the Purge, and Sandin programs his home security system to safely lock them in for the next 12 hours.

If you’ve seen the trailers then you know Sandin’s son will make a split second decision to help a homeless man being hunted by a group of killers that will set his family under siege by creepy mask wearing stalkers who want to “purge” themselves on their uninvited guest. It’s here that the original concept seems to start borrowing ideas from other home invasion movies, namely “The Strangers” (2008). We’ve seen these mask wearing creeps before, but they’re still effective villains, especially their psychotically entitled leader played by Rhys Wakefield. Wakefield occasionally borders on “over-the-top,” but is quite chilling in his best scenes.

Sandin must decide what to do with the homeless man lose in his huge house while the wolves at his door threaten the lives of his family. When the violence finally erupts, it is brutal and exciting. The fight scenes are extremely well staged and scary. There are several twists that come into play in the third act as the loyalties and the moral integrity of every character is tested under fire.

In the end, however, it’s still a little horror film with big ideas. I’ve met many film fans over the years that would rather a film not reach so high and exceed its grasp. They would rather see a formula film follow the dots well than see a film take a chance at something original but not quite stick the landing. If you’re one of those folks, you might even hate “The Purge.” But if you’re one of those folks that likes discussing the ideas and potential of an interesting idea, even if the totality of the execution might not have met your expectations, then I think “The Purge” will give you a lot to think about.

It’s hard for me not to encourage the kind of original ideas here that reminded me of many of the high concept horror and science-fiction films from the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s that are still being copied, re-made and re-booted today. I would include “The Purge” in the same category with films like “The Ring” and “Battle Royale,” not that it is in any way similar to those films, but like those films presented original ideas that lit the flame for dozens of copycats, I think “The Purge” will ultimately generate a new sub-genre of imitators itself.
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