The great thing about the ‘human horror’ genre, the type of horror where the bad guy isn’t a machete-wielding zombie death machine or spectral dream-killer but a plain old, flesh-and-blood maniac, is that it could actually happen. Living on top of an Indian burial ground isn’t going to unleash a poltergeist on you and your family, but maybe that guy whose car broke down isn’t quite being honest when he asks if he can use your phone to call a tow truck.
I have been anxiously awaiting this film ever since the first trailer, and my illuminating chat with Jason Blum, the film’s producer, got me even more hyped up. I love the human horror genre, I love home invasion movies like The Strangers and Funny Games, and I love Ethan Hawke, so how could this movie go wrong?
That said, let’s take a look at how things went during this year’s Purge.
Director: James DeMonaco
Release Date: June 7, 2013
The Purge tells the story of James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), a very successful home security developer, his doting wife Mary (Lena Headey), his multi-talented daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane), and his son Charlie (Max Burkholder), who is paradoxically both creepy and kind of a wuss, as they settle in to ride out the annual Purge, a twelve-hour period where all crime including murder is legal, together from the safety of their heavily fortified estate. Things are complicated when Charlie grants sanctuary to a bloody stranger (Edwin Hodge), which draws the attention of the masked gang hunting him, led by a particularly charismatic and especially psychotic stranger (Rhys Wakefield). He politely informs the Sandins that they have a simple choice: turn over the man they’ve chosen to hunt or they will come in and get him, adding the Sandin clan to their list. This leads the Sandins to quite the moral quandary, and naturally things don’t go as planned, but to say any more would spoil the movie.
I am a huge fan of Ethan Hawke, so watching him defend his family and his home was an absolute pleasure. He plays a normal joe who wants nothing more than to provide for his family and finds himself neck-deep in danger, forced to take action. And take action he does. That said, it’s really Rhys Wakefield who steals the show as the ‘polite stranger.’ Channeling the inherent sociopath of a Funny Games-era Michael Pitt, he delivers insane diatribes with a Cheshire grin plastered to his face. Every moment he’s on screen was gleeful madness. Next to the performances these two men put on, the rest of the cast falls by the wayside. That’s not to say they’re bad, not by any stretch of the imagination, but that’s just how good Hawke and Wakefield are. However, there are notable exceptions, and those exceptions would be the masked minions of the polite stranger, specifically the machete girl. She was especially creepy.
What I really enjoyed about The Purge is it played out fairly realistically for one of these types of movies (as realistic as can be when something like the Purge is legally sanctioned), and now that I think about it, a lot of the home invasion human horror movies tend to zag when you really want them to zig. During the Purge, nobody is safe, and everybody is a target.
The great thing about The Purge is that it takes the human horror genre to the next level. It takes place in the (very) near future where America is a near-utopia thanks to the annual Purge, where all crime is legal for twelve hours, including murder. Did you stiff your subordinates on their bonuses this year? Did you mess up that guy’s drink order? Or maybe you play your music a little too loud. Come Purge time, you might want to invest in some extra security. That’s what’s so terrifying about the world that The Purge invites us into: you could be on anybody’s list. What’s even scarier? They’re just doing their duty as good Americans by participating.
The political aspect of the film really struck a cord with me. The Purge is about the haves versus the have-nots. Sure, you may have peed in that guy’s Kool-Aid, but if you can drop the shutters on your house and hunker down for the night, you’re probably going to be okay. If you’re just a barista at your local coffee shop living in a studio apartment, your survival rate drops dramatically. The Sandins, all their neighbors, and the strangers fall into the ‘have’ category, whereas the only have-not we’re introduced to is the bloody stranger, who is the one with the target on his back. It certainly creates an interesting dynamic.
Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of twists and turns in the film. It keeps you on your toes the whole time. My only real problem with it, in the end, was the ratio of build-up and backstory to the meaty stuff was split pretty evenly. I would’ve been happier had they gotten to the hunt a little sooner, but when that’s my biggest complaint, I think we’re doing okay.
At the end of the day, I see this movie doing as well as most of the other Blumhouse productions like Paranormal Activity and Insidious. The budget was only three million dollars(!), so the likelihood of the film’s opening weekend box office exceeding that is pretty good. And if that’s the case, hopefully we’ll be seeing lots of other stories set in this universe. There is certainly plenty of groundwork laid for future sequels and even prequels.
Have a safe night, everybody.