The Purge ✮✮
by Glenn Lovell
The idea of ritualistic violence as a purgative is hardly new. Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short story “The Lottery” plays with the notion. So do several more recent dystopian allegories, from “Rollerball” to “The Hunger Games.”
James DeMonaco’s “The Purge” is both the most obvious variation on this trope ‒ and the most grim, as in hard-R sadistic. Writer-director DeMonaco considers a near-future America in which the government has decreed one night a year open season ‒ on your neighbors. Yes, you heard right. During a 12-hour stretch in March (7 p.m. to 7 a.m.), every God-fearin’, flag-waving American can legally roam the streets with club and Class 4 firearm … and exact long-festering payback on a boss or a panhandler.
This Walpurgis Night is seen as cathartic, a way of purging bad habits.
And so far The Purge seems to be working. Street crime is at an all-time low. So too is unemployment ‒ because the favorite quarry is “homeless swine.”
Our government’s motto is no longer “Big Brother is Watching!” It’s now “Release the beast and purge …”
James (Ethan Hawke) and Mary Standin (Lena Heady) and their teen-age kids aren’t really into maiming and torturing. At least not yet. So they’re in “lockdown” mode (i.e. tucked in for the night) and feeling relatively secure behind their state-of-the-art home-security systems. In fact, the old man’s line is home security: he made a bundle by exploiting his neighbors’ fears.
So what can go wrong?
Plenty when your foolproof system is compromised from within. Daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) hates Dad for not allowing her to date an older man and son Charlie (Max Burkholder) questions the old man’s myopic politics and disengages the system at the first cry for help.
True to its title, “The Purge” is an unpleasant experience with no one to care about or root for. What you expect to happen happens. Like most home-invasion thrillers, it’s more nauseating than frightening. DeMonaco attempts to leaven his non-plot with bleak humor ‒ it’s your “patriotic duty” to off your neighbor, that kind of thing ‒ but these asides come across as heavy-handed and obvious. At least genre fans will have a good time. They’ll detect references to “Night of the Living Dead,” “Straw Dogs,” and, in the guise of a wolf in prep-school clothing, Michael Haneke’s infinitely more unsettling “Funny Games.”
THE PURGE ✮✮ With Ethan Hawke, Lena Heady, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder, Edwin Hodge. Directed, written by James DeMonaco. 85 min. Rated R (for profanity, extreme violence)