Movie Review: The Purge (2013)

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Rating: B-/  Okay, The Purge is not a great movie. But I think the 5.6 rating on IMDb is a little harsh, because although this isn’t a subtle or masterful film, it is an entertaining one that manages to raise some interesting questions. I was definitely intrigued by the premise right off the bat, as far-fetched as it is. And despite the issues with the script, which I will go into momentarily, this movie kept my interest from beginning to end.

In the not-so-distant future, crime is at an all-time low and the rich and powerful are thriving more than ever before, but there’s a catch (isn’t there always?)  For one night and one night only a year, all crime is legal. For the bigwigs, this is a dream come true, they can hide behind their fancy high-priced security system while the poor and defenseless get brutalized on the streets. A lot of these ‘purgers’ are out for revenge; someone wronged them, and they have one night a year to get back at them in a big, possibly fatal way. But the rich people who just go out and plaster people as an outlet for their existential angst? Now they’re the really scary ones.

On this particular purge, group of said rich folks, led by their astonishingly cheerful and soft-spoken psychopath leader (Rhys Ifans,) decide to drop by the house of the Sandin family. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is a well-to-do installer of big fancy security systems, and he could really give less of a shit about the poor who are vulnerable on the night of the purge. However, when his teen son Charlie (Max Burkholder) panics and lets down the family’s security system to save a bleeding stranger (Edwin Hodge) who is being pursued on the street, Ifans’ group has a bone to pick with James’ family.

Now James, Charlie, James’ wife Mary (Lena Headey) and sulky daughter Zoe (Adelaide Kane) are in for the most terrifying night of their life. Now James is all to happy to send the man the group of masked purgers are pursuing into their hands and be done with it, but the injured stranger has other ideas. In other words, he actually wants to survive the night, and who can blame him for that? Oh yeah, and Charlie is sort of a kid genius with a heart condition who built this creepy-ass remote control doll creature, and God knows that thing has to come into play somewhere, right?

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I’ll be the first to admit that the dialogue here isn’t the best and lacks subtlety, often sounding stilted and unnatural (I think the movie might be going for a element of satire here, but it’s hard to tell.) In fact, a lot of elements just flat out don’t work, and characters’ motivations (like those of the girl’s boyfriend, Henry (Tony Oller) are spotty at best, completely baffling at worst. But I wasn’t looking for a cinematic masterpiece, I was looking for a entertaining horror-thriller, and I think this movie succeeded in that regard.

I came in with fairly low expectations, and I got a tense, fast-paced home invasion thriller with some on-point social commentary. It’s amazing how much people will try to convince themselves that people are disadvantaged because they’re lazy or choose to be, and the excuses they make when things go horribly wrong for these people. The acting is decent, not great, but good, and the characters seem to develop to some extent throughout the film, transitioning from willful ignorance at the plight of the poor in this dystopian society to beginning to gain a sense of awareness.

I can’t speak for the sequels, but The Purge is a underappreciated movie with an fascinating premise that, for the most part, pays off. It’s definitely an idea that engages the imagination, and although it could hae been done better in certain spots, altogether it’s a pretty thrilling ride with a few good jump scares.

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