“The Purge” is a moderately effective horror movie that covers the familiar ground of the home-invasion movie while embracing a unique setting. It's 10 years in the future and a new government program called The Purge allows for a 12-hour period every year where all crime is legal. The idea is that The Purge encourages people to get their violent tendencies out of their system so they'll be better behaved the rest of the year. Of course, the downside is that people are just as likely to be victimized as they are to be vindicated.
It's silly to think that such a program could ever work. First, the film focuses almost entirely on violent crimes instead of the ones that people are more likely to commit, like theft. The inevitable sudden shifts in wealth would cripple the economy. But getting back to the violent crimes; there are way too many people with a moral opposition to violence that goes beyond mere legality. Some are opposed because of religion, some because of the Golden Rule, some just aren't that angry, some are squeamish, and plenty are going to be too scared to go out and participate. But the Sandin family is in danger from people who aren't afraid of the consequences, and that's all this movie really needs.
The Sandins are a very wealthy, but otherwise typical American family. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) sells security systems, and The Purge tends to be a busy time of year for him. His wife, Mary (Lena Headey), has little to do but socialize with jealous neighbors. Teenage daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) is moving too fast in her relationship with her adult boyfriend. Charlie (Max Burkholder) is the tech genius son who can't shake his sense of compassion. The family is planning to wait out the Purge in their secure home, but Charlie takes pity on a desperate stranger in the street (Edwin Hodge) and disables the security system long enough for him to take shelter in the house. I have to question the stranger's wisdom in drawing attention to himself in the lighted street instead of hiding in the background of the darkened neighborhood.
The family soon learns why the stranger was so desperate. He's being pursued by a group of rich snobs who are determined to kill him for being useless to society. The snobs wear masks that are the scariest I've seen in some time. They're basically distorted human faces minus the eyes. Oh how the no-eyes look has given me sleepless nights over the years. The leader of the snobs (Rhys Wakefield) doesn't wear a mask, but his real face is plenty creepy. He gives the Sandins an ultimatum: hand over the stranger or the snobs will break in and kill everybody.
The rest of the film is pretty much the same as any number of horror movies where the characters have to avoid killers in a darkened house. But the appeal of the film doesn't lie with the Sandins, it lies with The Purge itself. The society of the film encourages acts of violence, and we the audience feel encouraged to enjoy that violence. I'll admit I cheered for a few violent scenes myself. If you think you can enjoy these scenes, you might like “The Purge.” If you detest violent action, then you're probably not planning to see “The Purge” anyway and are right to have made up your mind ahead of time.
The film ends with newscasters proclaiming this to be the most successful Purge yet. Undoubtedly there will be another Purge, which means we'll probably get another “Purge.”The film made nearly $40 million this past weekend on a budget of only $3 million. I have to believe that we'll see several sequels, perhaps annually like “Saw” and “Paranormal Activity.” Love it, hate it, or if you're in the middle like me, there's no denying that “The Purge” is the future of horror.
Two Stars out of Five
“The Purge” is playing at the Hershey Cocoaplex. The film is rated R for strong disturbing violence and some language. Its running time is 85 minutes.