The Purge: The night has eyes… and guns… and knives… and axes

by Mark Burger

A futuristic fable in the tradition of “The Twilight Zone,” writer/director James DeMarco’s The Purge (**½) is efficiently made exploitation with a bit of social satire thrown in for good measure. Some have complained that there’s not enough social satire, but that’s not the kind of movie The Purge is.

The film is set in the year 2022 where, for 12 hours one night each year, civilization is encouraged to collapse. Lawlessness reigns supreme.

Residents are permitted —even encouraged — to embark on a killing spree. Not only does this purge people of their violent instincts (aha — so that’s where the title comes in!) but it also helps to keep crime and unemployment down the rest of the year. Specifically how is not explained nor, really, does it need to be. One either goes with the premise or not.

Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey play a well-to-do couple and Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane are their kids. They intend to sit out this year’s Purge within the confines of their suburban home, which is duly equipped with the latest security measures. Hawke’s character sells them, in point of fact and in pointed irony.

When one of those pour souls being pursued during the Purge manages to get inside the house thanks to an impetuous act of compassion from one of the children, it’s not long before the neighbors come knocking. They won’t be denied their bloodsport, and unless the fugitive is delivered to them, they’ll simply kill everyone in the house.

So begins an efficient exercise in paranoia and claustrophobia, as members of the family crawl through darkened hallways and around corners where surprises are likely to spring forth. The Purge may be high-concept junk — no insult intended — but it’s executed with a trim flair and not a little style.

There’s vicarious fun in watching the perennially earnest Hawke crack up during the proceedings as he is forced to defend his home and family by any means possible, and there’s effective work from Edwin Hodge as the battered fugitive and a grinning Rhys Wakefield as the most diabolical of the Purge proponents.