The Purge is a movie based around an idea you know you’ve considered at least once when some dickhead cut you off in traffic while blasting Skrillex and billowing vape smoke out the sunroof of his shitbrick of a Saturn; what if you could kill douchebags with complete immunity? In fact, that’s apparently how the light bulb turned on for writer/director James DeMonaco, as well. Brilliant conceit based around shared rage fantasies aside, The Purge is an undeniably interesting and novel concept, and that’s before you even mention that at it’s core, this is a home invasion flick. How well do these two concepts mingle? Read on to find out, but be warned that the movie will be spoiled in full. Don’t put me on some kill list if you haven’t seen it and choose to venture forward.
Reviewed by: Jake
The Purge is set in the not-so-distant future of 2022 America, where a new regime of totalitarian leaders have managed to take the flag and create a “28th Amendment” which establishes a 12 hour period, once a year, where all criminal activity is considered fair game. Somehow, this institutionalized bloodbath has led to a flourishing economy with almost non-existent unemployment and crime...
Enter James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), who is a salesman for a security systems company offering all the goods to protect homes on Purge night. James is fucking rich, making a killing off what is a brilliant business concept, and tonight, he returns home to his wife (Lena Heady) and two kids (Adelaide Kane and Max Burkholder). They lock down for annual Purge night and turn on the tv to watch the festivities unfold, as it seems security cam footage of people being ruthlessly massacred passes as entertainment in 2022.
As the night progresses, James’ son, Charlie, notices a man in their neighborhood calling for help over one of the surveillance cameras in their lavish security command center. Innocently (read, stupidly), Charlie enters the system disarm code that he has for some unknown and idiotic reason, opening the steel plating just enough to allow the man to enter their home before James rights the ship. Meanwhile, daughter Zoey is surprised to find that her boyfriend Henry has hidden away inside the house as well, and he explains that he wants to speak with James and convince him that he is not too old to date Zoey. Apparently the fact that he has chosen to do this on Purge night is not in the least bit alarming to Zoey. In an act surprising to no one, Henry finds James and pulls a gun, only to be shot and killed immediately. Zoey is sad. And stupid.
Matters only get worse from there as the family is unable to locate the bloody vagrant Charlie allowed inside, and a group of mask-donning, preppy frat kids come knocking on the door, speaking mostly in Thespian tongues about how harboring the “swine” is denying them their right to purge as they are granted, and that they will break into the house and kill everyone if he is not returned to them to be slaughtered. Standard college stuff.
From there, we are entertained to a game of cat and mouse as the Sandins try to locate the vagrant. Time eventually runs out and the kids outside break in, leading to an all out war. The Sandins put up a valiant fight and take down most of the cronies, but James is eventually stabbed and killed by their polite leader. As the rest of the family is about to be killed they are saved by their neighbors, who come in guns blazing. In a twist, it turns out they have arrived to kill the Sandins as well, because they are jealous of the family’s large abode and feel James has made his fortune off selling them their security systems (which clearly don’t work all that well). Before the killing blow is cast, the vagrant pops up again and creates a stalemate, which the group rides out until morning when the Purge, and the movie, just sort of ends...
What the Movie Does Right
The biggest thing The Purge has going for it is its central conceit. As mentioned at the top of the review, you know you have had moments in your life where you wish you could kill with impunity. This movie takes those moments of bottled rage and creates a society that embraces it and functions within it. There is an inherent depth that feels organic and is delivered in a natural way, beginning with an opening sequence showing the “Purge Feed”, showcasing the scope and brutality of the world without requiring exposition.
In large part because of the above, this movie excels at building tension. While I don’t necessarily think it does the best job of sustaining and ratcheting up the stakes over the course of the movie as a whole, there is an incredibly foreboding and frightening atmosphere throughout the film, which can make for a butthole-puckering experience.
For certain viewers, I’d wager this would be a profoundly uncomfortable watch. Thumbs up in that regard.
On the whole, this is also a well acted movie. Hawke and Heady turn in solid lead performances and the leader of the frathouse sadists, Rhys Wakefield, is both stomach churningly-creepy and extremely punchable. You could make some solid arguments against some of the characters in the film, but none of that is due to the performance of the actor.
Finally, my soul requires I mention Timmy, the demonic hellbeast of a toy Charlie uses throughout the film. What the fuck is this thing? I love it. Thank you. That is all.
What the Movie Does Wrong
This is a movie that will leave you asking more questions than you’d like. Many of these revolve around James’ stupid fucking security system. Let’s quickly run through three big complaints related to this thing:
How the fuck is there no emergency backup generator set to kick on? Considering we know the level of expected calamity on Purge night, it’s reasonable to consider power outages could be a thing. Have a fucking generator inside the house and rig it to kick in in the event of a power outage. After all, you’ll want to be able to see what’s going on outside through your control room that’s powered by ELECTRICITY.
Maybe build in some sort of weaponized defense system, should you really need it. Hell, if that’s too much of an upcharge, just have sniper holes in the walls. The Sandins could have taken out pretty much everyone out there if they had even a few of those accessible.
That titanium wall sure popped off quickly. A fucking F150 with a winch yanked the main entrance open in a matter of a few seconds. If that’s possible, then really anyone could get in. Also, what did they attach the winch to? Does the protective door have a handle for the intruders’ convenience?
BONUS - Fuck it, just have a moat with a few alligators. Done. No one will fuck with you if you have a purge moat. Instead, you died. Good work.
In summary, Sandin basically sold snake oil. The security systems were more really expensive illusions of protection rather than an actual safety net. Yet the neighbors were pissed about how he made money and got rich? They should have been pissed because they were duped into buying these pieces of shit. Or more realistically, they should have been pissed at themselves for being stupid enough to each buy one rather than pooling together to purchase a Purge bunker. They were all gathering for a party anyway, so what’s the point?
One other minor quibble is that, after the power gets cut (which shouldn’t fucking happen), it’s really difficult to see. At times it aids the tension, but more often than not I just found it difficult to see anything because so much of the lighting is via flashlight. Pros and cons.
Story: 5 - I’m going right down the middle with this one. The central conceit is brilliant and I like the idea of setting a home invasion storyline against that backdrop. Ultimately, it creates a lot of issues and questions, and though I’m not penalizing this movie for what the franchise has done since, I think it’s safe to say it found a better home for itself in the action-horror realm.
World-Building / Immersion: 7 - Somewhat intertwined with the story category, the world that is build through the idea of the purge is very novel, very interesting, and very fucked up. The movie excels at providing the details you need to know organically, and benefits tremendously in the immersion category as a result. Even with all the stupid shit related to the security system pulling you out a bit, this is a high score.
Scare-Factor: 4 - I mentioned earlier that, for some people, this movie is bound to be a profoundly unsettling viewing experience. Much of that again relies on the core idea behind the film, and the added element of having a threat both inside and outside the house is a good tension builder. Ultimately, this movie is tense but doesn’t hit you with out & out scares like many in the genre. I think that’s another reason why the franchise has gone towards the action-horror side of things… Also, one final shout out to that doll. Timmy was creepy.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 6 - For the most part, the effects in this movie are good, if a little sparse. The costuming of the preppy invaders is awesome, and the intro scene set to Clair de Lune is a perfect jumping off point, though the choreographing is kind of haggard at times. The overall sound design is more than serviceable as well. It’s hard to bump this category too much in either direction, but when effects are implemented, they are better than average.
Overall: 6 - This is a good movie that will be far better on first viewing than on a revisit. The idea brought to life is the really noteworthy takeaway, and the franchise it has created is healthy to say the least. I would consider this required viewing for the horror fan, mostly to understand the beginnings of The Purge as new entries continue to roll out.