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Movie Review: 'The Purge'

The Purge

Starring Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Edwin Hodge, Adelaide Kane and Rhys Wakefield.

Directed by James DeMonaco

 Rated R



As with most movies, you tend to remember them by the premise, then with the actors and sometimes by the director involved.  Rarely does an audience think of the producer as an important connection to the film, but when it comes to the high concept/low budget horror films it is a different story.  Over the last several years one producer has been responsible for bringing such films as; Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister and Dark Skies to the big screen and his name is Jason Blum.  Blum’s latest horror film is The Purge.  Once upon a time Blum worked for Miramax until he opened his own production company appropriately entitled Blumhouse Pictures.  He had worked with director James DeMonaco (Little New York aka Staten Island) years earlier so when DeMonaco approached Blum with the idea for a movie that shows what life would be like in a dystopian future that allows ordinary citizens to commit any crime they want - all within a twelve hour window once a year.  Blum loved the concept. 

During a question and answer session at the recently held Stanley Film Festival in Estes Park, Colorado, DeMonaco had mentioned how he came up with the idea, with the help from his wife, while they were driving around his hometown of Staten Island.  Being from Staten Island myself, I can easily see how a person’s inner rage would boil up as you try to deal with the lunatics behind the wheels of the other cars.  A once a year full purge of everyone who has wronged you?  Why that could be brilliant!  Just kidding.  Haha.

The Purge stars Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), Max Burkholder (Parenthood), and Edwin Hodge (Cougar Town).  It is the performances from a couple of relative unknowns; Adelaide Kane and Rhys Wakefield (Sanctum) that really stand out and should lead to more role offers as those two stand out in this film.

The movie opens in the year 2022 and it depicts a future where the government has decided that the only way to rid society of all crime is by authorizing a once a year “anything goes” crime wave.  All citizens have twelve hours to commit any crime without fear of prosecution.  On the flip side of that is the fact that there will be no emergency services available either.  No police, ambulances or fire department personnel.  You are on your own.  Good luck! 

The film focuses on the seemingly normal inhabitants of a well-to-do neighborhood and particularly the Sandins: James (Hawke), Mary (Headey), daughter Zoey (Kane), and son Charlie (Max).  It is the day of the annual purge and conversations generally relate to wishing neighbors a safe purge and making final preparations to hunker down and ride out the event in the safety of their homes.  James activates their brand new super duper security system and everything is set.  As with any horror movie you wait for the proverbial fly in the ointment, and it doesn’t take long for us to learn who opens Pandora ’s Box.  A bloodied stranger (Hodge) comes to the Sandin’s front door pleading for help and right before his unseen pursuers can get him the steel security gate over the front door rises and he quickly scrambles inside.  Bad move.  Within moments we see who is after him and they are not very pleased that the object of their blood purge has been granted safe haven inside the McMansion.


The mob looks like your normal everyday next door neighbor types except they are wearing masks and carrying weapons of mayhem.  Before you go getting self-righteous about how this plot point makes no sense because the purge means they can do whatever they want to whomever they want, consider how ultra creepy it makes them appear.  Their de-facto leader is a well dressed charismatic loon (Wakefield) who unmasks in an attempt to appear normal and sensible.  It’s Wakefield’s performance that stands out and should bring him a lot of movie roles in the near future.  

DeMonaco effectively builds the suspense between the Sandins, the bloodied stranger and the mob, but does focus too much pointless attention to a search scene that gives the impression that the Sandin family may be dumber than we thought.  DeMonaco also misses a prime opportunity to showcase his best characters when all hell breaks loose. 

The Purge gives us an alternative to the current crop of released movies as it isn’t normal to get a horror movie in the spring rather than around Halloween.  We can probably attribute the curious release date to Blum’s financial midas touch and last year’s mega success of Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods.  That success came despite the movie being shelved for awhile by nervous studio heads who thought it would bomb then only agreed to release it after the actor known as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) started attracting the attention of young people who spend money.  The Purge isn’t on the same level as Cabin, but it does have enough going for it to warrant a look. 

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