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Title :The Purge (2013)
Release : 7 June 2013 (USA)
Country:USA | France
Runtime: 1h 25min
Genre :Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Stars :Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder
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The Purge (2013) trailer
The Purge (2013) review
Part of my problem with most dystopian movies is they feature intricate and finely tailored disaster scenarios for the future without ever explaining how the world could turn to shit so bad. It’s not that hard, the U.S is sitting on four hundred million guns mostly belonging to crazy people, so we’re one ill-advised governmental decision from complete chaos. The Purge explored that frighteningly real disaster scenario in a blunt and deliberate fashion that left many fans frustrated, but I thought it was a good movie that mastered the lost art of staying within its means. Not a perfect movie by any means, but a competent and compelling one.
In 2022, the United States are going through an unparalleled era of economic growth. Crime has almost been eradicated because of the purge: a yearly 12-hours period where all crime becomes legal. All-star security system salesman and self-made asshole James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is planning to spend the night on lockdown with his obedient wife (Lena Headey), his anxiety-ridden son (Max Burkholder) and his rebellious daughter (Adelaide Kane), but Sandin doesn’t understand the limits of what he can control (because you know, he’s an asshole) and sees the new American tradition that made him rich turn again him.
Several people seem to hate The Purge for not living up to the insane potential of its premise. The movie isn’t that interested in its own concept, to be honest. Writer and director James DeMonaco prefers firing cannonballs at every violent American stereotype instead and it’s pretty great. The American people have always felt the need to “defend” themselves against exterior menace and the idea of the purge gloriously turns this idea inside out as every year, people start fearing their neighbors more and more in anticipation for that period of time where they’ll be allowed to settle the score in any way they want. Instead of being paranoid about a faceless menace, the Americans of The Purge are paranoid about one another.
The Purge doesn’t stop at the right to bear arms, though. James DeMonaco also tackles the myth of the self-made man through James Sandin and his urges to control everything from his home to his beautiful and tormented children. DeMonaco showed a grim vision of the one percenters too, as some sort of floating boogeyman waiting for the opportunity to prey on people. There’s only one black actor in the movie and he doesn’t wrong anyone, which is a detail I loved. It allowed the story to clearly define what the overall goal of the purge: a social cleansing of the most vulnerable class. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a little lefty-ish of a film, but its heart is in the right place: it’s a creepy, home invasion psychological thriller before it is a social statement.
So, I can already hear your question: how does it work as a movie then? Will I be entertained if I’m just looking to spend a pleasant 90 minutes? It’s a more difficult question, but I liked The Purge a lot for its entertainment value too. It doesn’t feature any “great” acting per se, aside maybe for Rhys Wakefield who plays a genuinely creepy psychopath. The home invasion/dystopia angle was interesting to me, because the bad guys are technically not criminals and the viewer is technically free to root for whoever he wants. The Purge is a karma-free slasher movie where there is no mandatory pure “virgin” character that has to be saved. Except maybe for the black guy, who hasn’t done anything to anybody. But you see how The Purge constantly toys with stereotypes and conventions? It was extremely compelling to me.
I will not debate the idea that the potential of a concept like the purge is infinite. It is genuinely creepy because it could genuinely turn the most civilized country into a paranoid war zone over a couple years. The Purge only tackles an minuscule portion of it, but I thought it started at the logical point: people who profit from the misery of others. Of course, I have historical perspective on my side. I know there’s already a franchise behind the idea (I will review The Purge: Anarchy this Thursday) and I might’ve been slightly disappointed had I not known that further movies were in the pipeline. The Purge is a nasty and purposeful dystopian thriller that prefers crawling into your mind rather than to shock you with the goriest images possible. The world could use more movies that make you feel this uneasy about the way you live your life.