The year is 2022 and America has evolved into a nation that has an unemployment rate of just one percent, and crime is at an unprecedented low. This is mainly due to the New Founding Fathers’ implementation of the annual purge, a twelve-hour period in which all crime, including murder, is legal and emergency services are suspended. This chaos that is created once a year is the perfect outlet to get all of the citizens’ anger and frustration out of their systems before it builds up, right? The mayhem that is caused during that one night is worth the near-utopian society that it produces for the other 364 days of the year, right? All the disruption and all the lives lost are justified, considering all of the good that the free-for-all causes…right?
On this particular night of purging, wealthy salesman James Sandin, played by the unappreciated Ethan Hawke, plans on waiting the night of uncontrolled violence out with his wife Mary (Lena Headey) and their two kids Zoey and Charlie in their solidly sealed home. James made his fortune selling security systems that are specifically designed for protection during the purge. A good portion of James’ sales have been to the members of their neighborhood, and one of their neighbors lets Mary know that they all have been gossiping about them.
All seems to be going as peacefully as planned until Charlie notices a “Bloody Stranger,” as he’s referred to in the credits, begging for someone to let him in. Charlie punches in the security code and allows the badly battered stranger to slide inside just in time before James and Mary can stop him. Soon after, a group of masked “purgers” show up and their “Polite Leader” (Rhys Wakefield) unmasks himself to reveal that if the Sandins don’t release the stranger to them alive, they will bring their hardcore tools to break in and slaughter them all.
The interesting concept is what drew me in, as it was a relief to see an idea that had never been done before, at least not in a mainstream movie. I agree with many critics who have said that more could’ve been done to expand on the plot, and it fell victim to many clichés of a standard home invasion film, a la The Strangers. In some ways it reminded me of The Happening, where an original idea was wasted by not exploring the unique plot further. However, while the execution of The Happening was horrid, The Purge compensates for its clichés with solid performances, especially from Hawke and the creepy as hell Wakefield, as well as some plot twists you’d never see coming. I give the movie credit for having the balls to go places that other films wouldn’t dare go.
Another plus is that aside from some of Charlie’s gadgets and the extravagant security system, the filmmakers didn’t try too hard to sell the setting as being in the future. I’m glad they decided not to go overboard with futuristic technology because, especially for a thriller like this, it would’ve been distracting and taken away from the terror that the family was enduring. Nine years from now is not too far into the future, and I can’t imagine things will look significantly different by then, considering that things haven’t changed much since 2004.
One aspect that the filmmakers should have dove deeper into was its political commentary on how our society thinks of poor people as being worthless and expendable. They suffer the most during the purge because they can’t afford the high-tech security systems. It’s hinted that the murders of poor and/or homeless people, such as the stranger in the film, are what caused the unemployment rate to plummet, and the purge was created for the purpose of improving the economy by eliminating those who are considered to be unworthy of taking jobs from the middle and upper classes.
Despite mixed reviews, The Purge made $16.8 million on its first day at the domestic box office, more than five times its $3 million budget, and landed at number one with $34 million for its opening weekend. Due to its financial success, a sequel is already in the works. I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to a sequel because it could potentially explore other aspects of the purge and show how other people deal with it, as well as address any unanswered questions and fill any plot holes that the otherwise well-made first film left.