The Purge

The Purge

In a fictional near future, the government has created a night where all crime is legal, including murder. Called “The Purge”, it’s a release valve for people’s rage and way to violently cleanse the country of those who can’t protect themselves. A night where literally “Only the strong survive”.

When the tables turn on a family that’s benefitted from the policy, the result is a home invasion horror movie with a heavy dose of political commentary.

James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is a successful home security system salesman. On the night of the annual “Purge”, he, his wife (Lena Headey) and his two children (Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane) settle in, raise the shields over the doors and windows, and prepare to wait out the night.

The Purge is an officially sanctioned night of lawlessness. All crime is legal, including murder. Ostensibly, this is done in order to allow citizens to “blow off steam”, so to speak, and release the pent-up rage and frustration they carry inside of them. The reality is, however, that the rich can afford to protect themselves, while the poor become prey. The night turns out to be a violent social housecleaning where those unable to fend for themselves are weeded out, and off of the government’s teat. The night of violence results in economic boon for the country the rest of the year, but once a year, every Purge night, the price must be paid in blood.

This particular Purge, the Sandin family isn’t as safe as they think. When the young son sees a man (Edwin Hodge) pleading for his life out on their street, he disarms the family home’s system and gives the stranger asylum. Unfortunately, the man was the target of a pack of wealthy young people (led by Rhys Wakefield) who had picked him out as their Purge night entertainment. The group tracks the man to their house, and demands that the Sandins turn the man over, or become part of their Purge night celebration themselves.

Prior to seeing “The Purge”, I had suspected that the high level concept would be paid brief lip-service simply in order to set up a standard home invasion movie. The home invasion element isn’t anything special, it’s true, but the Purge concept is actually developed relatively well. As far-fetched as it might be in terms of realistic, effective social policy, “The Purge” envisions a world where such a night exists and then carries it all the way through. As such, there’s actually a relatively interesting socio-economic framework underlying the film. The rich here have gotten wealthy directly at the expense of the poor and via fear-mongering, and now the pain of their own policies are returning to visit. It’s not the world’s most subtle political commentary, but it adds a layer of interest beyond the typical “oh my god, they’re in the house!”

The invasion/action portion of the film is pretty standard. Once the killing begins, there’s not much to differentiate it from others of its ilk aside from the sheer body count. People get shot and stabbed and snuck up on, and there’s plenty of screaming by the victims and menace by the masked invaders. Which is fine, I have no problem with well trodden ground, except the creators chose a very poor way to end the film, in my opinion. The word “flat” comes to mind, as in – that’s how it left me.

In spite of the disappointing ending, “The Purge” puts forth a unique political horror premise and creates a level of societal commentary that you don’t get in most horror films. It’s not the world’s most sophisticated or nuanced political metaphor by any means, but its enough to hold viewer’s attention until the carnage begins, and to ruminate on once it does.


Daniel Fogarty

52 thoughts on “The Purge

  1. It had a great concept that I thought they should of explored more or had they went another route instead of am home invasion movie, it would of been much more intriguing.

    • It’s true, the concept is better than the rest of the movie. Perhaps a mockumentary or something would have made better use of it. 😦

      Still, I didn’t think it was bad, for what it was.

  2. You said, “In spite of the disappointing ending, “The Purge” puts forth a unique political horror premise and creates a level of societal commentary that you don’t get in most horror films.”

    I saw one trailer for this which leads me to dispute it as unique. My first reaction, which is reinforced by the review, is that whomever got the idea was watching ST’TO, episode Return of the Archons in which this thing called Festival occurs. While the break down of the episode seems to imply that it happens daily at 6:00 pm, the fact that the inhabitants of the planet thought that the away team was coming into town for Festival would seem to indicate that this was something that happened on a regular, but less frequent, basis. Since it only lasts a short time, I think it would be a weekly hour in which all violence is permitted.

    • Well, perhaps it has similarities to other fiction, I’m sure there’s nothing new under the sun… but it felt new to me. As I was watching it, they disguised their “inspirations” well enough to make me feel I was watching something original. 😉

    • And of course, there’s also an episode of Sliders where they slide to an almost-utopia with a much more reduced population and ATMs that give you free money. Except that it also enters you into a lottery where you are given practically whatever you want for a day, then at the end of the day, you are executed to keep the population small and manageable.

    • Yeah, definitely thought of that TOS Star Trek episode when I heard about this premise.

      In real life, I suspect white collar workers would instead use Purge Night to embezzle their employers out of billions, causing a socio-economic shift where the rich become poor, the middle class become rich, and the poor become middle class. And if all crime is legal, there would be nothing to be done about it.

      Also, lots of political assassinations.

      • Yeah, that was one of the “exceptions”. Government officials were immune, and no weapons over class 4, whatever that means. Lol.

        Meanwhile, yeah, I imagine it WOULD be embezzlement city. Lol, shit, you could still show up for work on Monday, too! “Sorry boss, you know how it is… Purge night!” 😀

      • No surprise,”The Return of the Archons” was my first thought as well. 😆

        IT IS THE WILL OF LANDREW! (I used to yell that at my older Brother quite a bit. Yeah, I was quite the brat.hee hee)

        Sorry, was there a movie under discussion here? Lets talk about Star Trek instead! IT IS THE WILL OF… 😉

  3. Great review! Quite similar to what I said in mine but you said it much better. 🙂 I only went to it because I liked the concept so much – I really wish they’d explored it more. And, yes, the ending is quite disappointing. :-/

    • I know, right? It’s like they completely went off the rails there at the end! I know what they were thinking, but geez, they handled it really poorly. 😦

      I thought they explored the concept well enough, though. If they spent anymore time on it it would have delved into mock documentary territory – which, admittedly, might have wound up better than it was I suppose.

  4. Nice review. I get that this concept is supposed to bring up an idea about our own society and where it may be headed, but after the first 10 minutes, they totally drop it and get lost in the same old conventions of horror movies that are all but dead by now. And if they aren’t, they sure as hell should be.

    • That’s just it, though, I think they bring up the subject of the purge, and then we’re supposed to apply that to the horror that occurs later. It’s no accident that Ethan Hawke’s character got rich off of selling security systems, you know? What happens to him and his family is supposed to be part of the metaphor they’re painting. Its not as if they simply “drop” the purge stuff.

  5. Hi, Fogs:

    The concept of “No laws for a night” is nothing new. I remember a beautifully rendered pen and ink Elizabethan tale from the late 1960s in one of the old Warren comics, ‘Eerie’.

    The tale was titled ‘Night of the Jackass’. Which, for its time looked and felt superior to an updated ‘Night of the Living Dead’ that is ‘The Purge’. Though it may be fun to watch Lena Headley kick some a**. Then slap the crap out of her kids who don’t understand that “Lockdown means Lockdown!”

    • LOL. Well, that trumps UrbanNight’s Star Trek precedent, that’s for sure! LOL

      And yeah, holy crap did I feel that element was glossed over. If all crime was legal for that night, I’d have strangled that kid for being so dumb and bringing all that Hell down on the family. Seriously 🙄 how dumb can you be?

      • Hi, Fogs and Urban Night:

        No real trump intended.

        Though, if you are serious about satirizing today’s culture and politics. Borrow from the recently defunct ‘ABC’s Master’s of Horror’ and their tale of aerial drones that prevent robberies and other crimes. And then quickly run amok and lazing people for littering or casting a shadow in the afternoon. Then add a dash of ‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’ and have its computer controlling the drones.

        As for kids being stupid. We were all kids once. But much smarter. Though not immune to the old saw that “Affairs of the heart toss common sense out the window!”

        Besides, the director needed a reason to bring the domestic terror indoors. He could have used a cat wanting to get in or out through a window, but went with the kids.

    • Well, I’m not sure I can agree with that… there were always SOME kind of stakes afoot. Whether it was the explanation of the Purge in the early part of the movie, the stand-off between the kids surrounding the home, or all the carnage towards the end, there was always SOMETHING happening! 😮

      Although the actual end was kind of a drab let down. I’ll cede you that 😉 LOL

  6. The poster of this film w/ the masks looks utterly terrifying. Not really my cup of tea at first glance but the premise does sounds intriguing. I might give it a rent if I’m feeling up for it.

    • It really IS a preposterous idea, but they have the guts to take it all the way, at least. As far fetched as it is, its a fun concept to explore in a fictional setting. I pretty much wish they stuck more with the concept and less with the home invasion that actually WAS the movie!

  7. I’ve been going back and forth on seeing this one. I wasn’t interested initially but Ethan Hawke did a great “AMA” session on Reddit the other day that got me curious about it. He seems like a hell of a guy.

    Bummer to hear the ending is disappointing. I felt the same way about Sinister (speaking of Hawke movies). It sounds like it may be worthwhile anyway, so I’ll probably give it a shot at some point. Great review, man.

    • Yeah, I haven’t gotten around yet to Sinister, but I should. I know some people who like that one. Hawke does a good job here, but the end really undercuts what could have been a much better movie. It’s a shame. 😦

      Still worth a looksee on home video one day!

  8. Your review and a couple others saved me two hours and seven bucks. If you have to have political paranoid fantasy, start with a little more of a justification. The idea that the rich get that way off of the poor is just trite. That the poor would allow themselves to be slaughtered is patronizing. That all of this can be contained to 12 hours sounds preposterous. On a three million dollar budget and an opening weekend gross above 35 million, it looks like the film makers are the ones screwing the poor. How about a lottery movie where audiences vote each year for the film maker they most want to see go away. Then each year at the Academy Awards, they run a clip or stage a number where that film maker is executed. M. Night Shamalayn is up first, then maybe Uwe Boll. These guys would be up in 2016, if they keep trying to pull this stuff over on us. That movie I’d go see.

    • LOL! A directorial purge? That’s awesome! The movie landscape would certainly be better off for it… see? Now you’re thinking like the purge!

      The problem here with the poor is, the policy isn’t expressly aimed at them, it’s just a de facto result. So, similar to the real world where you get people foolishly supporting parties and policies that don’t actually favor them, there’s no backlash.

      I like the point that its ridiculous that it all can be contained to 12 hours, though. I found myself wondering what the annual clean up costs were for the following day 🙄

    • Yeah, it turns out they had a good high concept after all. Once they really starting getting into exploring it, The Purge was a much better fictional concept than I gave it credit for.

      Then the ending is so lame it practically tosses it all away 🙄 Oh well, wont be the last time that happens!

  9. I like the concept – like it in the fact it is certainly attention-grabbing and there’s scope there for social commentary as you highlight. Although I haven’t seen it I’m intrigued to see how it plays out, however, the well trodden ground you speak of will – no doubt – be detrimental as I’m visualizing a good handful of films recently, and in the past, that have done the house invasion thing with varying degrees of success.

    • Yeah, the home invasion thing seems super commonplace lately, there’s no doubt. And there was nothing really about that element of this to make it stand out. 😦

      The social commentary bit is the best thing this movie has going for it, in my book. 😉

  10. Thanks Fogs. Sounds like there was a meaningful message intended to be delivered, but it fell into some typical slasher plots and maybe lost its way as far as the message goes?

    • No… I think they got across what they wanted to get across in terms of the message, Gene. They just stumbled in terms of a movie. When they were working the political aspects of it, that’s when it was at its best. Once they went to regular movie mode, it became bland 😦

    • LOL. They made some snide kind of comment about Fox News, I forgot what it was though. I will say this, there’s really no doubt that this is a movie with a leftist bent. The events of the Purge are basically equivalent to wishing that the pain of republican policies get revisited upon them. LOL No joke, this is a pretty politicized flick, they barely even try to hide it!

  11. So, all crime is legal, yet the only crime anyone commits is murder? It seems like a much more interesting movie could have been made but wasn’t.

    • Yeah, I thought of that myself. How is it that banks aren’t getting robbed left and right? If you steal a car on Purge night, is it yours legally afterwards?

      Seriously, I would have preferred a movie where they focused even more on the high concept…

      As it is, it was decent enough.

    • The high concept struck me as silly to begin with (the notion that crime overall would be decreased by this, and that it would be an economic boon… nah, I just don’t see it). But I agree with Brik that it sounds like a more interesting film could have been made than just a home invasion plot.

      • Absolutely. In retrospect now, I’d have preferred a mockumentary! However, I understand why they went the way they did, it brings their “message” full circle.

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