“The Purge,” written and directed by James DeMonaco, 85 minutes, rated R.
In the year 2022, the United States is a nation reborn, where poverty and unemployment rates have taken a drastic dip, and crime is at an all-time low. The country owes all of this prosperity to The Purge, one night of the year when all crime – namely murder – is not only legal, but is a right for all American citizens.
So begins James DeMonaco’s “The Purge,” a horror-inspired home invasion film that is derivative, more often than not, yet manages to maintain its dignity through all that blood and violence with an unambiguous political statement.
Once establishing its out-there premise of a government-sponsored night of mass murder on U.S. soil, the film introduces James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), a wealthy salesman for a home security company who has made a fortune off of other well-off individuals looking to create a sanctuary for the annual Purge. James and his family (Lena Heady, Max Burkholder and Adelaid Kane) are safe for the night, because they can afford to be. Others, such as the homeless and poor, however, are not so lucky. These are the targets of the Purgers, and their deaths are the primary contribution to the country’s reduced poverty and unemployment rates.
When the clock strikes 7 p.m., the Sandins, as well as the rest of the gated neighborhood, lock down their houses with the latest home protection system. Things go wrong, however, when James’ sympathetic son Charlie (Burkholder) lets a wounded stranger into their home. Soon after, a group of affluent, privileged and educated masked Purgers show up on the Sandins’ doorstep looking for the “homeless filth,” so they can finish their Purge.
The creepy crew of eccentric preps leave the Sandins with a choice: Hand over their annual victim, who will undoubtedly suffer a prolonged and gruesome death, or the gang will enter the house and execute the entire family in the same manner.
There are a number of influences “The Purge” feeds off, ranging anywhere from “Assault on Precinct 13” (which DeMonaco remade in 2005) to “Last House on the Left,” and “Funny Games,” which is a much savvier piece of satire from the great Michael Haneke. As a horror movie, “The Purge” is pretty much sub-par. With spurts of high tension sprinkled throughout, the film serves up the same home invasion story that keeps re-emerging every so often in Hollywood. The only real twist here is that this time the intrusion and ensuing murder is legal.
But there’s more to “The Purge” than what is on the surface, or that can be highlighted in a 30-second TV spot. DeMonaco uses the tired-yet-popular premise as a platform to, hopefully, open up a dialogue about class warfare. Though it could have been explored more thoroughly, this unexpected element helps elevate the film well above similar outings such as 2008’s “The Strangers,” making it just bold enough to stand out from its subgenre.