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The Purge
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The Purge (2013)

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Plot Summary:
"Given the country's overcrowded prisons, the U.S. government begins to allow 12-hour periods of time in which all illegal activity is legal. During one of these free-for-alls, a family must protect themselves from a home invasion."

Review by
Ryan McDonald
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Review Date: 21 June 2014 My Rating: out of 5


Set in a near future America where the new founding fathers have curbed crime via an annual, one-night purge, whereby all criminal activity is permitted, yes even murder. Apparently, this is meant to satiate all anti-social urges, but it mostly seems like a way for the affluent to murder themselves some po’ folk. Ethan Hawke plays an installer of hi-tech security devices, and obviously he makes a pretty penny around this time of year. He’s also a family man, and neither he nor wife Lena Headey see the need to participate in the purge, holing up in their well-protected house with tech-obsessed son Max Burkholder, and rebellious teen daughter Adelaide Kane. Unfortunately, as the purge begins, two intruders find their way into the home. Kane’s boyfriend turns up, wanting to have a talk with her dad, whilst socially-conscious Burkholder wants to save a homeless black man from being a purge victim. It’s this latter act which alerts the attention of and earns the ire of a bloodthirsty mob headed by suited, demonically grinning Rhys Wakefield (dressed in what looks like a private school uniform- he clearly comes from money and privilege). They want the homeless man…or else.

Despite the mixed reviews, I think writer/director James DeMonaco (writer of “The Negotiator” and “Skinwalkers”) does a damn good job of taking a nifty but potentially thin idea and sustaining tension and interest pretty well throughout this 2013 horror-thriller. I was worried at first that he was going for a right-wing, pro-gun statement here, but by the end you definitely can’t argue that. That’s a good thing, because there’s just no way that a purge would ever work in real society. Someone who gets off on breaking the law or has urges that are uncontrollable would likely either not benefit from the one-night purge, or would exploit it beyond its intentions. Arguably it’d never see the light of day to begin with, but I was willing to go along with the premise to that extent, otherwise why bother watching? But it ain’t no pro-NRA film, that’s for sure.

It’s certainly a contentious and interesting premise that gives lots of opportunities for tension, suspense, and home invasion terror. It begins with a somewhat creepy, impending sense of dread, and even the central family aren’t terribly comforting to begin with. 90s hipster actor Ethan Hawke seems emotionally stifled and practically choking on his own tie, Lena Headey gives off a superficial housewife/suburban vibe that could harbour dark urges underneath, and youngest son Max Burkholder’s robot-obsessed little weirdo could really go either way. And it only gets creepier when former “Home & Away” actor Rhys Wakefield (co-star Adelaide Kane, by the way, was briefly featured on the rival Aussie soap “Neighbours” a few years back) turns up grinning maniacally like a Stanley Kubrick character and dressed like a wannabe Patrick Bateman. Subtle he isn’t, but creepy he certainly is, in an effective casting against type. As his polar opposite, Ethan Hawke is hardly the most charismatic guy in the world, but cast as a mild-mannered abstainer from the purge, he’s well-utilised.

This might have a few holes and contrivances in it (However, I must say that some of the stupid behaviour is committed by the kid and the horny teen, so it’s not exactly unbelievable), but the premise is intriguing, the tension is kept pretty much throughout, and overall this is one of the more original horror-thrillers of the last few years. I’m not sure what the mixed reviews are all about. To me, this one’s a winner, and best of all, doesn’t stick around long.

Reviewer: Lisa Giles-Keddie @FilmGazer
Location:London, UK
Review Date: 30 May 2013 My Rating: out of 5

Imagine a night where any crime is legal, including murder. Who would you ‘purge’ given half a chance? Writer-director James DeMonaco’s The Purge is more frightening in concept than conception, though it’s still a solid and watchable affair. It doesn’t offer any new chills that other under siege-style horrors haven’t already. It’s also not as creepy as Paranormal Activity or Sinister – though producer Jason Blum’s influence is apparent having worked on all three. However, The Purge’s initial strength before the mayhem begins is fuelling that deep-seated fear of lawlessness and loss of control, heightened by the horn that signals the start of ‘anything goes’ – including our viewing journey.

It’s America but one of the near future where employment is at one per cent and crime is virtually unheard of, thanks to a government-sanctioned, 12-hour period where any and all criminal activity, including murder, becomes legal. The Purge is a night of citizen rule designed to clean the streets of undesirables. Some go out to purge, while others like the Sandins stay at home behind metal barricades until the 7am siren sounds the end. However, this time, when a distressed intruder breaks into their home, the family must make a moral decision that could cost them their own lives.

Like Paranormal Activity or Sinister, The Purge is most successful when it relies on the power of voyeurism through CCTV to titillate, waiting for the action to play out into screen, and in so doing, building up our anticipation of the first big scare. The rest is a cat-and-mouse chase through darkened corridors and rooms in a plush and expensive abode with some satisfying jumpy moments. That said it does suffer from prompting its next move at times that lessens the impact. It could also have been a lot darker by toying with and exploring the psychological effects, but it’s more content with funny-looking masked characters popping out of dark corners with little imagination spent on how.

The Purge also suffers from that saccharin Hollywood horror gloss, more concerned with how attractive its characters and their lifestyle look – even when wounded and blooded – than getting downright ugly and twisted. In that respect, Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey are perfectly adequate in their roles, but there’s none of the tortured appeal of Hawke’s author character Ellison Oswalt in Sinister.

The standout performance comes from Rhys Wakefield as the polite, smiling stranger who comes a-knocking at the Sandins with his frenzied band of well-to-do flower power kids. Wakefield’s character represents the worst nature of the privileged that this night of legalised slaughter truly benefits behind a real, live mask of his own. It’s his chilling social commentary that is the most terrifying to contemplate as he explains in a maniacal but disturbingly reasonable fashion into CCTV camera why he is acting as he does. Like a present-day Clockwork Orange character, he has an intelligent but alarmingly unhinged and mysterious persona, making him all the more effective in delivery.

Equally shocking and uncomfortable to watch is the chosen target of the night who takes refuge in the Sandins’ home. There’s no mistaking the racial cleansing connotations here, and the labelling of certain groups deemed more responsible for reported crime. In that respect, DeMonaco’s film challenges engrained social stereotypes, say, with rough sleepers – do pay attention to the target’s attire. It even poses the question of what secrets are kept inside America’s gated communities who are perhaps as culpable. The story has an end twist that with hindsight is set up at the start. Again, the film’s strength is in what is not actually being said. The Purge offers an intellectual debate first and foremost, rather than any memorable shocks and horrors. It also exposes a new talent for acting the madman in Wakefield, leading to exciting things to come. DeMonaco should be happy to be instrumental in that.

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