I’ll get right down to the point – The Purge is “good”, in the same sense that Giant Eagle tissues are “good” enough if your nose is dripping like Niagara Falls. But I want more from my tissues, I want softness and aloe-caressing smoothness. In a diametrically-opposed horror movie sense, I want name-brand horror sans cheesy lines, comedic relief and “who would ever freakin’ do that” scenes that are the only means by which a movie like this could exist. The biggest “kudos”, though, for The Purge is simple: it’s terrifically suspenseful, although leaving you feeling like you’ve seen it before. And you probably did – and it was better.
Writer-Director James DeMonaco does little more with The Purge than make a predictable thriller full of scary corners, silhouetted-figures looming behind main characters and plenty of ominous personalities that, at times, garner more guffaws than applause. At just 80 minutes long, DeMonaco’s latest tantalizing horror flick had me greatly intrigued with its pitch: one night a year, all crime is legal. Murder, rape, breaking and entering, robbing, theft – you name it. All of the country’s pent up rage is unleashed; society is cleansed of our collective anger on that night, the rest of the year is almost free of crime. Sounds like you wanna take part, right? Well – hold your horses, Manson.
The year is 2022 and the anonymous “Founding Fathers” regime in the US government has sanctioned March 22 as the official beginning of the annual purge. It lasts just 12 hours – from 7PM until 7AM. In that time, citizens are encouraged to “cleanse their souls” and unleash the hatred that they claim each one of us holds within. The main purpose of the purge, described by talking heads on pseudo-news shows in the opening credits, is to eliminate the homeless, the poor, the weak – those who are not of value to society and who remain non-contributory citizens. Whatever the true intentions of the government-supported killing spree, it must be working – unemployment is at 1%, violence is almost entirely restricted to this 12-hour window and society seems to be functioning at an all-time high.
We don’t ever get an explanation on who these mysterious “founding fathers” are and it seems DeMonaco isn’t all that interested in telling us – he’s content with using this outrageous plot as a jumping off point for a slew of intense home invasion scenes that I likened to The Panic Room (remember that Jodie Foster flick? That’s what was needed here…).
Anyway, at the center of the film is the Sandin clan – a wealthy, well-off close knit family of four with Ethan Hawke as father James Sandin. Hawke’s character sells home security systems designed to protect people from the annual purge. He’s sold them to everyone in the neighborhood, profiting countless hoards of money that you can tell the neighbors are incredulously jealous about. The audience is never really sure if Sandin supports the purge because he thinks it’s achieving the desired effects or if because it’s allowed him to stuff his pockets – either way, Sandin’s family is greatly uneasy with the idea of mass crime and murder, especially his son, Charlie, played by Max Burkholder.
The predictability of the film comes into play simply by keeping tabs on who is still alive and who’s (obviously) not going to die. Once Charlie springs the plot into being by disarming his family’s security system to allow a pleading vagabond in their home to escape a gang of purge killers, you can call the shots like you yourself wrote the script.
Sandin’s daughter Zoe and her boyfriend (who snuck in minutes before the purge lockdown) are upstairs doing what young people do when the boyfriend, Henry, decides to confront Sandin about the uneasiness toward him dating his daughter. You can tell that Henry isn’t just going to “talk” to Sandin but has something else in mind. And I was right – he pulls a gun on Sandin who, armed himself, fatally shoots the boyfriend. Womp womp.
In the shootout, the vagrant hobo that Charlie let in has vanished and is off hiding somewhere in the house. You get the eerie feeling he’s dangerous and just plain bad news. Obviously he isn’t going to take down the family himself so DeMonaco sends in a team of crazed psychopaths hell-bent on purging the man inside the Sandin home. We come to find out the “worthless swine” killed a member of the psychopath’s gang – now, they want revenge and to take part in the cleansing that the purge allows. The “freaks” threaten to “purge” the entire family unless they give him up – the clock is ticking.
The leader of the freaks, who merrily gallivant around the front yard in Little House On the Prairie attire wielding machetes and machine guns, looked to be a dejected Hogwart’s student with his slicked back hair and prep school get-up. His smile is grisly and gives you the creeps – he and his gang of typical horror movie freaks deliver some of the best moments in the film as they provide for much of the jump scares and pop-out-of-a-dark-corner moments that work rather well.
Through a series of rather gruesome scenes, one involving the cringe-worthy torture of the vagrant trapped inside the Sandin home (at the hands of the sweet mother-figure, I might add), DeMonaco manages to get you on board for a while as you root for the Sandin family to survive. The violent, flesh-hungry freaks eventually break in after the family’s conscience gets the best of them and they fail to release the vagrant to the freaks waiting for him outside.
Then, more predictability. The illusive Zoe, who also went MIA during the shootout with her boyfriend and father, reappears just as the freaks’ leader is about to blow her family away. It’s predictable only because she’s the solitary character left that can and would do something. Kinda ruins the fun.
With the freaks’ leader and his degenerate followers dead at the hands of the Sandins, it seems the movie is about to come to a close. Neighbors, who had rushed over to help the Sandins thwart off the freaks, now turn on them. Again – I called it.
In an execution botched by the director that deserves more laughs than gasps, the jealous neighbors display weird smirks and spout off just plain stupid lines as they seek to eliminate the flashy Sandins. But wait, who isn’t dead yet that could help save them?
Yeah – that vagrant dude. He makes a roaring reappearance that ushers in the end of the film. With tables turned, the Sandins are aided by the gun-wielding vagrant, and choose to let their neighbors live, asking for peace the remainder of the night.
It’s 7AM – after a stand-up-and-cheer head-bashing clash between Mrs. Sandin and her jealous neighbor, the purge is over. The neighbors retreat, the vagrant thanks the family and the movie comes to an abrupt end.
The Purge is yet another hide-and-seek movie where a wealthy family has to thwart intruders who sneak around the house and pop out of dark corners. DeMonaco is skilled at staging lingering scenes of suspense, and a few of the jump scares definitely get your heart pounding and palms damp with suspense.
If you’re into the kinda horror dealt out by cartoon-mask-wearing freaks and unpleasantly awkward dialogue that makes you giggle more than wiggle, The Purge is for you. If you don’t want to know how a movie’s gonna end until the very last few minutes – then may I suggest bringing a blindfold with you to the theater.