First you have to wrap your head around the premise. A fascist regime has taken control of our government. They’re called the Founding Fathers. Okay, think the Tea Party. No problem. And this regime allows one 12-hour period per year for Americans to get out their weapons and go around killing and raping as a means to expunge all those violent urges inside all of us. Seems that the growth in sales of firearms and security systems has boosted the economy and there is virtually no unemployment. Okay, the NRA might get behind this. Also, the Purge, as this cathartic period is called, gets rid of society’s undesirables. Sounds familiar to me.
That done, you have to expect the story’s similarities to Straw Dogs, The Strangers, and Funny Games, as our mild-mannered, highly privileged family sits inside their fortified mansion to get through Purge Night – which has been turned into a highly documented television event – The Hunger Games on a national scale. Dad, James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), is a slick security systems salesman who has acquired the very best for his family. Wife Mary (Lena Headey) cooks gourmet meals with zero carbs. Son Charlie is a long-haired, sensitive guy who tinkers around with and talks to a remote-control tank mounted with a half-melted doll’s torso. Zoey (Adelaide Kane) is your typical romantic teenage girl with a randy boyfriend (Tony Oller).
Soon, a couple of twists get the tension going. Charlie breaches the defenses to admit a wounded stranger (Edwin Hodge), and the randy boyfriend, who has sneaked into the Sandin fortress, is going to confront disapproving Daddy with a gun. To make matters worse, preppies from hell besiege the house and plan to batter down the doors if the Sandins don’t release the stranger.
Suspenseful moments in dark hallways and moralistic choices ensue, but the suspense is often weakened by the lack of initial establishing shots to clearly delineate the layout of the house, and we never know where anyone is hiding or creeping in relation to the approaching threat.
You can guess that the Sandins decide to fight it out, and I embraced this basic element as a wish fulfilled, hoping that traces of humanity have survived the fascist dictates of the Founding Fathers, whoever they are. Guess it would be all right to assassinate the F.F.s on Purge Night. Somebody should try it.
The Purge delivers standard mayhem, but what I liked most about this movie is that – SPOILER OF SORTS – Mary emerges as the prime mover for good, and her control of circumstances when the Sandins are beset by a surprise invasion is a satisfying climax, nicely performed by Headey.