07 August 2013


The Purge is a home invasion movie that reminds me a lot of Sam Peckinpah’ Straw Dogs, Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers and David Fincher’s Panic Room. Of course there are plenty or other such films as well and the home invasion type story is a whole sub-genre in itself of the horror and/or action film. The basic idea is to have some reasonably decent people -a family for example- being terrorized and eventually invaded by evil, threatening forces from outside and inevitably from inside their sanctuary. Most zombie movies have this situation introduced at some point into the story. Almost all of these films rely heavily on the viewer being able to accept some degree of implausibility in order for the story to move along. Something has to happen to make the sanctuary less than impenetrable, like in Panic Room where Kirsten Stewart’s young character has diabetes and leaves her insulin outside the actual panic room, forcing mom Jodie Foster to have to go outside and retrieve it and in the process having to deal with a psychotic Dwight Yokem. If not for this they would never have to leave the panic room and there would be no film. The same sort of implausibility’s happen in The Purge, written and directed by the agenda laden James DeMonaco,  and I will address them in a moment, of course, but those little film gimmicks asking the viewer for a little suspension of disbelief are not the real problems with this film.

In the far distant future (like a whole nine years from now) America’s New Founding Fathers –white ultraconservatives who still believe in that nasty Christian God and like guns and hate unemployed people of color- have solved the nation’s problems with unemployment and crime by implementing the brilliant idea of a once a year purge night, where for twelve hours anything goes. You can rape kids, burn down houses, murder homeless people, or anybody for that matter, marry your gay lover,  stomp on hamsters and stand in your front yard and smoke weed and it is all totally legal from seven at night to seven the next morning. Almost anything goes but political leaders with certain status are protected from acts of violence, no doubt the God-fearing, gun-totting Founding Fathers themselves. There restrictions on what types of weapons can be used and it is not made clear, but I would assume they mean no atomic bombs or anthrax.  I am really not a fan of political message movies and in particular when they are also horror films. I just don’t like them for the most part as they tend to sing to the choir , either the choir on the right or the one on the left and, like The Purge, beat their messages into your head with a ball-ping hammer. And that is where this film falls apart for me almost from the very beginning. More time and energy is spent trying to drive home DeMonaco’s anti-gun and anti-conservative values messages than is spent trying to make the actual invasion itself believable and exciting. So anyway,  who the hell  is getting invaded and by whom and why?

Security expert James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) has done well for himself and his little family selling home security and protection  supplies in order to protect the people who can afford all of that, decent rich white folk, from the dangers of Purge Night. He and his wife Mary (Lena Headey) give much lip service to being supporters of The Purge and of “releasing the beast” but you suspect their hearts are not 100% into the affair. While it is not stated explicitly one gets the sense that you do not really want to speak out against Purge Night and seem like you do not support the new "America reborn" agenda. There is still the voice of dissent from the left, maybe all residing in Seattle, who claim that the real purpose of the Purge is to cleanse society of its unwanted lower members; the poor, the unemployed, the sick, the homeless and all those other filthy sorts conservatives and God believers, as we all know, want eradicated. The Sandins have two horror movie stereotype children, their daughter the smart allecky but ripe16 year old Zoey (who spends the whole movie in her fetishy school girl uniform) and the geeky Charlie who makes remote controlled little robots out of burnt baby dolls that have night vision camera installed in them. Good thing he has this hobby as the robot, named Tim, becomes an important part of the film later.

Yes, the Sandins have done well for themselves, so well that the neighbors are envious and bitter about their success at having the largest “castle” in their little neighborhood of millionaires. The snide inferences about this mass jealousy of course needlessly telegraph the film’s plot in the second act and general ending. As Purge Night (I do not know if that is what it is called in the movie or not) begins things waste no time in going bad for the Sandins. First Zoey’s boyfriend shows up inside the house of the security genius after “lockdown” and wants to settle –as in “just talk”- to James about his relationship with his daughter. Well we’ll say this character ends up written out of the script pretty fast and I think it was a total waste of a character that could have used later on. On top of that, at almost the same moment, Charlie sees a black man –yes, there is suddenly a poor, urban black man in the middle of this elite white community in a suburb of LA that no doubt requires a long commute in an SUV to get to from the city- who is bloodied and screaming for help. Charlie unlocks the house’s security precautions long enough to let him in and accelerate the plot. As James and Zoey's beau exchange a few words and many bullets the black fellow escapes into the recesses of the Sandin’s fortress like house.

And there you have the motive for the home invasion; a group of yuppie like white, twenty somethings show up in freaky masks –ala The Strangers- and want the Sandins to turn over the dirty, filthy homeless black guy and let them have their government sanctioned fun with him. If not, they will huff and puff and blow the house down and get him and exact violence on the Sandin family for not complying. The group is led by the smiling and trying way too hard to be evil (I'm just going to have fun playing the villain in this one!") Australian actor Rhys Wakefield, who somehow manages to look creepier with his mask off than he does with it on.  And there you have the rest of the film basically; the Sandin’s crawling around in the dark with guns and flashlights looking for the homeless guy in their house, and the gang of masked yuppies waiting outside for the equipment to arrive so they can effortlessly pull the doors and windows off the Sandin’s secure castle, then getting in and then having the Sandin's crawl around with guns and flashlights  in the dark more looking for the invaders. In fact, I want to just say this, the ease with which the house is broken into and the intruders gain entry was just too much to accept. In truth, the film is never a film about keeping the invaders out since they all but waltz into the place.

And here is where things just get too hard to accept at times, even for me who employs beaucoup suspension of disbelief per film. 1) That the house would be that easy to break into just using chains and jeeps to remove the doors renders the whole security angle pointless. Wouldn’t this have been something Sandin’s company would have considered at some point? 2) That the gang of thugs would really waste all their time on Purge Night trying to get this one homeless guy when they could have let it go and killed off twenty or thirty more homeless people instead makes no sense. 3) That Sandin would not have planned better with contingencies like a panic room for example is too big a hole in his character's professional perfectionism. 4) That his neighbors of years would be so envious of his success that they would want to torture and kill him and his family in cold blood is stretching the whole "we are all potential killers" concept too far.  5) And that the Sandin’s would be able to fend off all the machine gun packing attackers in their house as everyone just ambles around the darkened hallways is unbelievable. What the director does is sort of his version of those kung fu movie fight scenes, where a guy fights 40 other kung fu masters, but only one or two at time while the rest hop around waiting their turns. Other wise they would kill the son of a bitch in a minute.  Same gimmick here really. Often gunfire and screaming erupts in one room while James fights off the attackers. It never seems to occur to the other invaders in the house to run to that room and see what is up, rather they decide to ignore the commotion and continue walking around in the hallways, “looking” for somebody to kill. Hey, maybe there is somebody to kill where all the gunfire is coming from and from where your partners are screaming in pain. Just a hunch.

And by now the whole so called political message of the film –far less effective than the satire in films like Starship Trooper- is lost as the film gets mired down in one horror/thriller cliché after another. Suddenly there hardly even seems a need for the whole Purge Night theme. The band of invaders cold have easily just been like the scarier thrill killers in The Strangers. And I have to comment quickly on one gimmick that took place at least four times that I can recall right now. It is the set up where a killer is about to kill somebody, and just as they cock the gun or whatever you do with guns they suddenly explode somewhere on their body as a good guy, basically, shoots from the back or from the side somewhere off camera. I mean this happened to the point that I got numb to it. 1) James saves Charlie just as Charlie is about to get shot, 2) Neighbors save Mary just as she about to get shot, 3) Zoey saves the family just as they are about to get shot and 4), the homeless black guy saves the whole family again just as… well, you get it. It seems like the only way DeMonaco can resolve these situations.I also did not like the slow motion scenes of the masked girls, all in a homicidal state of mind of course,  in white dresses skipping down the halls like they were 10 years old. Really corny and contrived and again lifted from The Strangers.

In the end the movie is too packed with blunt and ridiculous messages about class division and the evils of conservatives to really take seriously. The film never explores the possibilities of what might be happening elsewhere in LA at the same time, like the Compton area where maybe every night is Purge Night. The fallacious message seems to be that if you allow well educated, well off  hard working white folks the chance to kill other human beings with impunity they will jump on the chance. Another message is that when you have a neighborhood full of white folks killing each other off the only decent person will be the homeless black guy (and the geeky pre-teen white boy with the robot of course). The violence seems a little tame for an R rated film really and at times I did not like the jolting film score. Actually worth a watch even though I give it a round scolding but more worth it for the violence and horror clichés than any sort of lame social message it may be trying to impart. Another message movie that makes a statement about the senseless violence in America using senseless violence.


  1. Your review made me laugh a few times, especially towards the end. You bring up a lot of solid points. I didn't hate the film, but it's not even close to what it could/should have been. It felt rushed and it's a shame because it had a lot of potential.

    I'm digging your page, and I just followed you. If you wanna chat horror, swing by my page.


  2. Yea I did not really hate it either and I do employ some hyperbole and exaggeration here to, as you seem to have caught on to, add a little humor and sarcasm to the review to make it a little more entertaining.I am following you back and wonder if that rotting zombie arm can be eaten? Looks lie a burrito almost. If you do not know about my other, and main, blog then check it out as I just did a new podcast there: