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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Review: The Purge

Murder Mass-Marketed

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: June 7, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: James DeMonaco
Writer: James DeMonaco
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, 
Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, 
Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield
Tony Oller, Arija Bareikis   

For one night, all crime – including murder – is completely legal. That's the alluring premise behind "The Purge," a horror-thriller set in the near-future – 2022, to be exact. The Purge is a law created by America's "New Founding Fathers." Before The Purge, violence and poverty were sky high. Now, crime rates are down to 1%. According to James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), "The Purge saved our country."

Sandin is a security salesman, and his house is fully locked down – with his own equipment, naturally. He's ready for the big yearly Purge.

Most Americans view the "event" with a sort of reverence. Purge Fever is so rampant that entire neighborhoods celebrate by attending "Purge Parties." On TV, psychologists fawn over the health benefits of "purging" bad thoughts from your system. Any deaths incurred on that night are viewed as "sacrifices for your country." Even James and his wife, Mary, treat the idea of "purging" casually. When their innocent son, Charlie (Max Burkholder), asks them about it, they admit they've "never felt the need" to "purge," but their tone and cadence indicate that it would obviously be no big deal to commit legal murder. In their minds, he's too young to understand and remember what the United States used to be like.

Just as we're bombarded with suggestions/warnings to "support our troops," the U.S. citizens of 2022 have been conditioned to support The Purge.

While the film starts off as a wicked satire, there is a constant layer of tension and unease lurking as the audience waits with anticipation and dread for the 12-hour Purge to begin. Two problems present themselves soon after the clock strikes:

1.  On the monitor, young Charlie sees a homeless man (played by Edwin Hodge) outside the house running for his life and begging for shelter. The sweet, na├»ve boy can't just sit back and do nothing.

2. His teenage sister, Zoey (Adelaide Kane), is secretly dating an older boy/man, Henry (Tony Oller), and the idiot has locked himself inside their house during The Purge because he wants to confront and convince her father to allow them to date.

As the night unfolds, a group of purgers surround the Sandin fortress. They're led by a man in a mask (Rhys Wakefield), who makes his demands known in a very calm but chilling voice.

From there, "The Purge" turns into a full-fledged horror-thriller – as expected. At only 85 minutes, the pace is brisk; there's never a slow, dull moment – or a moment to breathe.

Ethan Hawke once again shows his tremendous acting range. In the "Before" series, he's loose and easygoing. Here, he's uptight and constrained – perhaps because he continually denies himself his yearly "release" allowed by The Purge? Whatever the case may be, his scowling jowl is very reminiscent of Harrison Ford.

The movie isn't perfect though. About midway through, Hawke's character makes the kind of illogical decision that could only happen in a script. In one fell swoop, he morphs from fearful family man to horror movie Rambo. Some of the masks and mannerisms also border on the ridiculous – as if they're creepy just for the sake of it. All of that silliness aside, the "purge" concept is effective and well-executed.

From a psychological standpoint, it is interesting to see the idea of murder so thoroughly examined. For this family, it goes from an abstract positive to a terrifying reality they'll have to deal with for the rest of their lives. Class and financial status are also explored cleverly, with Hawke's rich patriarch commenting off-handedly about their "safe" neighborhood and how lucky they are to be able to afford such top-flight security.

"The Purge" has a few minor issues, but it's the rare example of a horror movie that actually has something to say.

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