The Purge (2013)

It has taken me a while but I finally caught up with “The Purge” and it was definitely worth the wait, and the hype. I love great horror. I believe horror and science-fiction are wonderful and complimentary genres mainly due to how little respect they get in general. Because of this they are able to accomplish amazing feats other genres haven’t historically been able too. In Weimar Germany when censorship was rampant “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” emerged as criticism of the current regime and flew under the radar of watchful censors. During the McCarthy witchhunts in 1950s paranoid America the “Twilight Zone” aired on CBS, a major television network, and was filled with ample criticisms of government, society, politics, economy, and culture. Horror is one of my favorite genres and because of how little respect it receives, seemingly even less than science-fiction, from general society it is such a powerful genre.

The best horror films, and ultimately my favorite ones, are those that are both hugely entertaining and present a scathing social commentary of some sort. Films like George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead,” “Day of the Dead,” “Land of the Dead,” and even “Diary of the Dead” have earned their spot on this list alongside other films like Eli Roth’s “Hostel,” Joon-ho Bong’s “The Host,” Neil Marshall’s “Dog Soldiers” and “Doomsday,” and Clive Barker’s “Nightbreed” just to name a few. “The Purge,” written and directed by James DeMonaco, is the newest addition.

As long as you don’t think too much about it, “The Purge” is excellent. It does however, break down, logistically speaking, under greater scrutiny, but that is fine. The film is created to provide a brutal experience and expose deep-sated issues in our current society in such a manner that actually makes you uncomfortable. “The Purge” itself is an annual night, twelve hours where all crime is decriminalized, in an attempt to allow Americans, under the New Founding Fathers, to purge all their pent up hate, anger, violence, and malevolence. One aspect of the “The Purge” that is excruciatingly uncomfortable is that according to this film the concept is successful: set in 2022 the Purge has reduced unemployment to 1%, poverty, and other social ills are scarcely existent. However, the Purge is a bit misleading, it is not a free-for-all, certain government officials are off limits and anything above Class 4 weaponry is off-limits.

Instead of trying to create a film that is overwhelming and grand in scope DeMonaco wrote a taut script that manages to shine a spotlight on one family that throws focus on several aspects of the world of “The Purge.” The biggest of these is one that haunts our current world, the wealthy versus the poor. The main characters of the film are the Sandin family: James (Ethan Hawke), his wife Mary (Lena Headey), son Charlie (Max Burkholder), and teen daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane). They are wealthy family bolstered by James’ job selling hi-tech security systems to those who can afford it, who want to lock themselves behind thick steel walls on Purge-night.

The Sandins do not partake in the Purge, instead they, like many in their wealthy community lock themselves down for the night and wait it out while those who cannot afford high end security systems are ripe for the killing. Those who are Purge targets are the poor, living in tenements; the sick, unable to defend themselves; the homeless, unable to lockdown and defend a position. This would also put the middle class in the crosshairs depending on their position on the upper- or lower- position. The situation on this particular Purge changes drastically for the Sandins when not one, but two interlopers violate their steel sanctum. The most important for our purpose is a homeless, hunted man let in by Charlie.

The un-named Bloody Stranger (Edwin Hodge) is hunted and calls out for help. Charlie lets this homeless man into their armored house inadvertently inviting a siege. As the night spirals out of control and the Sandins have to decide to they try to capture the Bloody Stranger and hand him over to the Freaks? Or do they protect him, possibly at the cost of their own lives? What does capturing him entail? What will either of these actions cost the family?

“The Purge” manages to raise significant questions about the real reason of the Purge, yet at the same time every person involved swears by the Purge; the Purge works they all recite like cultists. Another chilling aspect is that every act of profane violence is enshrined in a blanket of patriotism. Grotesque men and women in masks chanting about being good Americans as they giggle for the blood of a homeless black man. Rich neighbors reciting an American poem of idealism before they cooly discuss slaughtering a woman and her children. Newscasters calmly discussing body counts and how proud this makes them as Americans. Gun sales and the celebration of wholesale slaughter of neighbors and strangers become the measure of American value and duty, maybe not so far a stretch. Maybe that is the most chilling aspect.

Great horror films draw us in and confront us with dark terrors that lie in wait in our world. “The Purge” excels at being dark satire and a fantastic horror film. It is brutal, the violence serves the narrative of the film and that is a welcome change as many horror films just have gory violence for the sake of gratuitous gore. It is also a film with something to say and this combination makes it noteworthy. I haven’t seen the follow-up “The Purge: Anarchy” yet, but I’m eagerly looking forward to it. I would love to see a future “Purge” film deal with exploitation of the Purge system where people disenfranchised with it use it to challenge and overthrow the system. Now, that would be an excellent entry into the “Purge” franchise.


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