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Review: The Purge (2013)

The Purge (2013)

Directed by: James DeMonaco

Premise: Set in the near future, America has almost full employment and violent crime is virtually nonexistent but for one evening each year all crime is legal, including murder, and citizens are allowed to run wild. A well-to-do family takes in a homeless man during The Purge and their home is besieged by a group of armed citizens.

What Works: In the past decade there have been a lot of remakes of both popular and cult horror titles from the 1970s and 80s including such controversial films as Last House on the Left, Dawn of the Dead, Straw Dogs, and I Spit on Your Grave. The original films came out of a specific cultural context and were a reaction to things going on in the world at that time. The problem with the remakes is that the filmmakers often took the name and rehashed the concept but did not really adapt the material for a contemporary audience. The Purge is an original film but one that clearly owes a lot to movies like Straw Dogs, The Crazies, and A Clockwork Orange, and yet the filmmakers succeed where the official remakes of those older pictures failed: to retool old ideas and make them relevant for contemporary viewers. The Purge is a high concept horror picture and as always the risk of a high concept movie is that a good idea gets wasted on an otherwise stupid or rote story. The Purge is not perfect but it does make use of its idea and follows through on many of its implications. More than any horror film released recently, The Purge is a movie specific to this particular moment in the culture; its concept, story, and its violence are all relevant to the world in which we find ourselves in. In the same way that 28 Weeks Later and The Dark Knight channeled the War on Terror, The Purge is an entry in the trend of recession cinema. The filmmakers shape their concept into a metaphor about American capitalism in the early 21st century and on that level the movie is very thoughtfully done with some provocative suggestions. The Purge also succeeds as a piece of entertainment. This is a siege film in which a family must defend itself against a home invasion and movie delivers as a thriller. The dynamics between the members of this nuclear family are conventional but they are also believable and the filmmakers spend an adequate time setting up those relationships so that they matter later when the family is in jeopardy. The acting is convincing all around, although especially notable is Ethan Hawke as the father, Adelaide Kane as the daughter, and Tony Oller as the leader of the gang.

What Doesn’t: The economic and political themes of The Purge are pretty obvious but the filmmakers tend to hit them on the head over and over again, especially in some of the monologues delivered by Oller. This is forgivable because it never feels out of character but the picture does get didactic in places. The Purge also has flaws in its credibility during the fights and stunts, such as guns fired within inches of someone’s ear but apparently not causing any hearing loss or characters disappearing and reappearing on an arbitrary basis. These kinds of slip ups are equivalent to similar scenes in other movies but they become more noticeable in The Purge because this film is so pared down and otherwise naturalistic. The weakest element of The Purge is its ending. Whether the filmmakers ran out of ideas or compromised in order to give the film a less pessimistic conclusion, the climax is a disappointing finish to what is otherwise a very strong picture.

Bottom Line: The Purge is a very good horror film. Like the better entries in George A. Romero’s Living Dead series, this is a movie that is entertaining while also managing to inject some sharp commentary on contemporary society.

Episode: #443 (June 16, 2013)