Director: James DeMonaco
Writer(s): James DeMonaco
Studio: Universal Pictures
Box Office: $89.3m
Release Date: 31st May, 2013
IMDb Rating: 5.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 37%
UK Blu Ray release? Yes
Ethan Hawke – James Sandin
Lena Headey – Mary Sandin
Max Burkholder – Charlie Sandin
Adelaide Kane – Zoey Sandin
Edwin Hodge – Bloody Leader
Rhys Wakefield – Polite Leader
Plot according to IMDb
A wealthy family are held hostage for harbouring the target of a murderous syndicate during the Purge, a 12-hour period in which any and all crime is legal.
The below paragraph was written in September 2016 when I first reviewed The Purge as part of 31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016…
“This modern world is full of pain – crime, war, murder, death, destruction and the decay of society. It’s not difficult to see this from what has been committed in 2016 so far, and with one of the most powerful countries in the world now touting a flagrant, narcissistic, poisonous racist as a contender for leader of the free world, it almost feels like director James DeMonaco prematurely tapped in to the dystopian future that possibly awaits us come November 8th: a future in which all crime, including murder, becomes legal for 12 hours; the perfect opportunity for society to balance itself out, for the rich to be able to feed off of the poor…”
Well, two years down the line and though we’re not currently watching America ‘cleanse’ itself for 12 hours, we certainly have the political and societal divide The Purge not-so-subtly implies.
It’s a brilliant concept, prime horror that is rife to be explored. Naturally as it’s the first film, and with Blum’s restriction on budget and location, it explores the theme in a secluded and tight setting, in the family home of the Sandin’s. James Sandin works for a company that provides security provisions for Purge night for those that can afford it. If you have the money to install window bars and door shutters with a full CCTV security system, then James is your man. If you can’t, well – you’re fucked.
There’s animosity right from the beginning as his neighbour’s make reference to his wealth at the hands of the Purge, their contempt hiding behind a thinly veiled smile and a tray of fresh-baked cookies. As James and his family batten down the hatches and settle in for a night of safety as the world goes mad outside, there’s a discussion on the morality of what the night represents. It’s here that you can see the potential for this idea, to bore a franchise out of a genuinely relative moral tale of our times: the country has benefited from the Purge as crime is down, unemployment is down and the country is financially stable. But what is the true cost of this night? It’s something that you feel should be explored more in this film but is instead left for potential (and now real) sequels.
Naturally, as it is apt to do, their plan goes awry. Not only do they have to contend with an unexpected guest that a group of vicious, sadistic upper class psycho’s are pursuing, there’s also the added problem of daughter Zoey’s boyfriend wanting to confront her Father about their relationship with a couple of led pellets. Just when the Sandin’s think the night couldn’t get any worse, it appears their neighbours’ also had a few ideas of their own for the evening…
Containing the action to one environment serves DeMonaco well, not only for budget but also for the tension; when there’s not many places to hide, the claustrophobia sets in, and as people are coming at them from all sides with no outside help, the hysteria ratchets up a notch. It’s impressive direction from DeMonaco, who utilises the CCTV angles to his advantage, enabling him to frame the killers in a twisted fishbowl eyepiece frame. He doesn’t hold back on the blood either, with real fights that ensure we know that this family are not used to defending themselves with anything other than expensive shutters.
Ethan Hawke turns in a superb performance as a Father who will defend his family in any way that he can. Similarly, Rhys Wakefield puts in a terrifying and sinister performance as Donald Trump’s son – sorry, as the Polite Leader that poses a threat to James and his family. His perfect smile hints at the menace he shows himself capable of and is worthy of a place on the mantlepiece of modern horror villains.
The masks are an added touch of genius – you’d think at first that any kind of masking of identity wouldn’t be required as all their darkest desires are legal in this 12-hour window, but as explained in the ‘Trivia’ below, the masks are more about the enjoyment of the act. People that Purge treat this like Halloween; it’s an event to get dressed up for, to bring out your alternative personality and to present that with a literal face.
The ending is superb and darkly cold, unexpected for its subversion of our expectations. We briefly see the full potential of the Purge night outside when it finishes, and whilst their own personal horror has formed the basis of this entertaining and at times thrilling film, you can’t help but feel that you wanted to be outside seeing what carnage was bathing the city streets in blood.
The pertinence of Trump’s presidency in relation to the concept that this film explores, coupled with the fact that this film only touches on an idea that could be explored from all angles, marks this film as the benchmark for great films to come; it just falls slightly short itself in being a perfect film.
Inertia’s Ideal Score (★ out of 5)
- The film takes place in 2022.
- The Annual Purge falls on March 22nd. The day before is March 21st, or in American dating, ‘321’.
- There are six sirens when the purge opens, and seven when it closes.
- The purpose of the masks was for them to resemble Halloween masks, a metaphor for the fact that some people see the Purge as a holiday of celebration.
JAMES SANDIN: Tonight allows people a release for all the hatred and violence that they keep inside them.
CHARLIE SANDIN: Why don’t you guys kill someone tonight?
JAMES SANDIN: Because we don’t feel the need to, Charlie.
Tomorrow: Night #12 – The Purge: Anarchy (2014)