Movie review: The Purge
In the name of the (new) founding fathers, mass killings take place once in the year
Posted: August 21, 2013
People who live in glass houses should fear the purge. Ethan Hawke stars as a family man who has to make a very consequential decision about gun violence.
"We gotta get some rope," says James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) halfway through The Purge. A homeless man has entered their house, and the Sandin family has to make the painful decision of either throwing him out on the street, where he will be slaughtered by a gang of sword- and gun-wielding maniacs, or keeping him sheltered inside where they are threatened with violence from the aforementioned thugs.
The dilemma is apparent, but the film itself is hopelessly inept.
James' request for rope is one of many in a string of bad ideas the characters come up with, courtesy of screenwriter-director James DeMonaco. The homeless man has just been knocked unconscious, and James wants to tie him up, the better to throw him out on the street. We realize immediately that this is a gimmick to buy time for the director, who likely didn't want his film to be shorter than its already brief 85-minute running time, but there is no logic in tying an unconscious man up before throwing him out of your house - especially when time is of the essence, and you have been warned by the mask-wearing spooks outside that you better hurry or they will come and get you, too.
It is 2022, and we are told the United States is a wondrous place where unemployment is at 1 percent and there is almost no crime. The explanation for this utopian existence is that every year around the vernal equinox, a purge takes place, meaning anyone can commit any crime, including murder but with the exception of the highest-ranking government officials, in order to remove the weakest members of society and ensure everyone's pent-up anger and frustration is given a release. This was the wish of the so-called new founding fathers of the United States, who brought about a country where the streets are clean but covered in blood one night in the year.
Directed by James DeMonaco
With Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Rhys Wakefield
On the day before the night of the purge, everyone goes about their business as usual, but we see signs everywhere that people are preparing for an onslaught, or perhaps it is they who will be doing the slaying. Most of the citizens in the lush suburb where the action takes place seem to be totally fine with the killings, because it is done for the greater good of society.
One person, however, doesn't seem convinced, and it is a small child whose innocence and wonder for life have not yet been extinguished. James' son Charlie asks his parents whether they would participate if they had to. His father says yes, of course, if he had to, but the mother seems more conflicted.
The reasoning behind the purge, however, isn't purely a desire to have a stronger society, but also to provide entertainment to those shut behind their iron gates and sophisticated surveillance systems. A "Purge Feed" runs on all the television channels and offers live visuals of some of the greatest incidents of bloodshed around the country where citizens are relishing in their visceral implementation of the Second Amendment.
In the Sandin household, all is well and good until Charlie, driven by his own sense of morality, puts his entire family's lives at risk by opening the doors and letting in a homeless man who is on the run from a bunch of bloodthirsty college students, dressed up for assembly in their ties and blazers, who are somehow also professional killers. How Charlie knows the security code or why his parents are not more enraged are questions we never get answered; in fact, Charlie's actions, which eventually lead to multiple homicides, is entirely ignored by his parents.
Viewers will have many questions throughout the film, of which Charlie's behavior, which doesn't only go unpunished but is left unaddressed, is just one. Another big problem is the characters' movements in the house. While Charlie and his parents start the evening together and then get separated for undisclosed reasons, Charlie's rebellious sister Zoe spends most of the night on her own. That is, while the house is under attack. At another point, James tells Charlie to go and hide in the basement, which he does, until he is attacked by an intruder there, and his father arrives at the last moment to kill the would-be assassin and take his son back to a safer wing of the mansion.
Such moments defy logic, whichever way you look at it, even in the world of low-budget thrillers (The Purge was made on a budget of $3 million). Another stupid contrivance is that, when the student gang arrives and demands to have the homeless man, they cut the power to the house, which makes it much more difficult and dangerous for the Sandins to find the fugitive. At the same time, the Sandins refuse to let the students in and help them find the homeless stranger, even though they are only looking to purge him alone.
With the children often running off into deserted wings of the house and disappearing for scenes on end before always reappearing at the moment when they are most needed, this film is as stupid as they get. The director has shot himself in the foot by not writing a better screenplay and by having his characters in the year 2022 stagger through a dark house because flashlights are apparently even smaller in the future than they are today.
This may have been a good idea for a thriller, but the execution is terrible. It may just be more entertaining to watch the live Purge Feed.
André Crous can be reached at
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