In an America of the future where right-wing conservatives have taken over, dubbing themselves the New Founding Fathers, the crime rate is very low due to the annual Purge. The Purge is when all laws are suspended and the public is encouraged to participate in the festivities. The only law that seems to be broken is murder and that seems the point. The Haves have the means to protect themselves; as the Have-Nots, who may turn to crime for wants and needs, are less likely to have the wherewithal to do the same. There are open conversations about what the Purge really is intended for. Is it just to ‘cleanse’ the citizenry of their hatreds and their frustrations building throughout the year? Or is it to get rid of what the Haves feel is the undesirables of society? It became rather clear within the course of the film it’s the latter and not so much the former that’s the answer to those questions.
The film centers on the Sandin family, a wealthy family living in affluent community. The parents don’t participate in the Purge, and one gets the sense that they never have joined in. But, they support the event all the same. Partly, because father James (Ethan Hawke, Training Day) works selling advanced security systems mostly to his neighbors. This line of work has been rather good to James and his family. But, also James and his wife, Mary (Lena Headey, Game of Thornes) have been convinced that the Purge works as intented. Their son, Charlie (Max Burkholder) isn’t so sure. The couple’s teenaged daughter, Zoey (Adelaide Kane, Goats) is far more concerned with her father’s disapproval over her too-old-for-her boyfriend, Henry (Tony Oller, Beneath the Darkness). But things are looking good for the Sandin family as they lockdown their house with the same security system that James has sold those who live around them.
Things turn unexpectedly, as Max shows sympathy for a homeless vet (Edwin Hodge, Red Dawn remake) who starts begging for help down their street. He deactivates their system long enough to let the man in. This understandingly elicits a bad reaction from the parents, especially when the homeless man disappears within the house. Adding to the complications this presents, Zoey’s boyfriend never left the house in the first place and wants a man to man “discussion” regarding he dating Zoey. Things go to a whole new level when Ivy League sociopaths, led by a Ray Davies lookalike credited as Polite Stranger (Rhys Wakefield, Sanctum), that were chasing the homeless man want him back and believes they have the wherewithal to break into the house. And James believes them. James wants to protect his family, but isn’t sure if he can hand over the man with a clear conscience. But, first he has to find the man hiding in his house and time is running out. Either way, as the trailer clearly shows, the security system is compromised and the bad guys get in and the action begins.
The Purge is clearly a sociopolitical satire posing as an action/horror/thriller. It presents the idea that if the right-wingers take over (more than they already have) and they are given this type of time period to run free and do what they want they will show their true faces. As monsters. The film may be heavy-handed, but since it’s a satire I’ll give it a pass. Besides, I share the films political bent. Its message is delivered well, but it’s delivered loudly and in your face. Many will find this too much. Right-wingers should hate the film.
But, it also works exceptionally well on the action/horror/thriller front as well. Suspense is well maintained throughout, as well as the terror of the situation. As for action, the crowd I saw it with was cheering at all the right places and we all had a good time with it all. Writer/director James DeMonaco (Little New York) is someone to watch. He proves himself on all fronts here: drama, suspense, scares, and action. He can do it all.
Great writing, great direction, great acting from a great cast. This is a winner!–Charles T. Cochran
Film rating: 5 out of 5