By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A promisingly perverse premise helps The Purge get under your skin.
The Purge is a futuristic horror thriller that follows one four-member family over the course of a single night, a night on which each of them (along with all the other haves as well as the have-nots) is allowed to commit any crime with impunity.
That means no legal consequences, no reprisals, no delayed justice.
This is happening in a 2022 America that had been overrun with crime in which the government’s New Founding Fathers sanctioned a yearly 12-hour period, from 7pm to 7am, in which any and all criminal activity -– including murder — is legal and all public services, including the police, are suspended.
And what group suffers the most on that night? Who else? The poor, the sick, the 99-percenters.
The annual lockdown that gives the film its name is designed to serve as a necessary catharsis, an outlet for people’s worst impulses, vented rage, and repressed negative emotions, and it is meant to help keep violent crime and unemployment at a relatively low level.
And so far it seems to be working: there’s virtually no crime the other 364 days of the year.
A fascinatingly absurdist proposition, no?
Ethan Hawke stars as one-percenter James Sandin, a private security contractor, ironically enough, whose palatial home in California, a seemingly impregnable fortress, is broken into during the purge when a stranger appears at their door in the gated community where Sandin lives with his wife, Mary (Lena Headey), and their two teenagers, Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoe (Adelaide Kane), screaming for help.
So James’ son disables the security system and lets the drifter into their heavily fortified house.
But there are other strangers in pursuit of the Sandins’ houseguest/intruder, and they threaten to kill the Sandins if they don’t give him up.
Writer-director James DeMonaco (Little New York, the scripts for Assault on Precinct 13 and The Negotiator) creates a strongly effective sense of dread, and makes use of the internal narrative logic to help us accept the central conceit.
The nightmarish legalized-crime scenario kicks off by providing us with an intriguing notion to take off from, and although the family-in-peril drama has its limitations as a claustrophobic suspense thriller, we never lose sight of the provocative political idea underneath the histrionics.
So, although DeMonaco certainly includes his share of generic and obligatory shock-scare moments (perhaps to placate producer Michael Bay?), and lets things get away from him in the late going with improbable derring-do, he recovers by getting back to the sociological implications of his film’s central idea.
So we’ll occupy 2½ stars out of 4 for an unsettling home-invasion thriller set in a speculative near future. Purging The Purge isn’t as easy as you might think.