Sometimes when things get recycled, they turn out better than they were before. For example, basic movie plots. Home invasion has been done countless times now, and within the last 10 years alone, we’ve seen Firewall, The Strangers, and a remake of Straw Dogs, not to mention 2002’s Panic Room. While each of these movies takes a different approach to the home invasion idea, none is more original than The Purge. While you’re watching The Purge, you can tell yourself you’ve seen the movie a bunch of times before, but you’ll be closing your eyes and jumping in the theater while you’re cynically reassuring yourself.
In this partly dystopian movie, an impoverished and crime-ridden America is saved by the “New Founding Fathers.” Their new policies include “the purge,” an annual lifting of all crime restrictions in the country, allowing for the release of stress and violence that everyone holds inside them.
Opponents of the purge see it as society’s way of ridding the country of those who can’t afford protection. Those who depend on others to take care of them, ultimately unable to take care of themselves, are simply killed off, and the purge exists as an economic renewal as opposed to its intended release of frustration. As frightening as it sounds, a news anchor reassures viewers that whatever it is about the purge, it’s working. Unemployment is at 1% and illegal crime is almost unheard of. So, that makes it all okay. Right?
Meanwhile, James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) works for a security company which specializes in home protection for the wealthiest citizens during the purge. Protected by his own resources, Sandin and his family consider themselves safe from the horrors of the night. When young Charlie Sandin offers shelter to the homeless target of a group of entitled young elitists, the family is torn between societal obligations and personal morality.
It goes without saying that the group makes their way into the Sandin home. Sure, some of the jump scenes were predictable, but the kills were impressively shocking, and the scares were substantial. On top of that, the film got me with at least 4 twists by the end. I enjoyed The Purge (far more than The Strangers and the Straw Dogs remake), although there were a few ideas that could’ve been developed more effectively.
I wouldn’t have complained if the hour and 25 minute runtime had been expanded to give us a little bit more of the social implications, but having said that, I wasn’t displeased with what I saw, only with some things I didn’t see. Interestingly, the thought that stayed with me most was that even though the film shows us the disastrous and deadly downsides of the purge, I’m sure there exists a population that would associate with the violent young interlopers, which is potentially the most disturbing part about The Purge.
Formulaic to an extent, The Purge is an otherwise well-made and thought provoking thriller. While it’s true the script leaves much of the interpretation of the social effects of the purge up to us, that’s where the scenes of terror are implemented instead. Think about it – without placing them as the vicarious on-screen victims, there was no other way for middle or upper class American viewers to understand how horrific the events of the purge would be. And that’s just what The Purge did.