It appears to be a very good season for folk in masks taking over the neighbourhood. Over the past few years, home invasion horrors featuring masked assailants have scared many an audience, most notably in Liv Tyler-starrer The Strangers and 2006’s French frightener Ils (Them), but two new entries are set to put their own spin on the genre. With the highly anticipated You’re Next not due until the end of the Summer, The Purge, released this week, may prove a tough act to follow.
Through a quick succession of CCTV and news footage from around the globe, we discover, disturbingly, that those steering the society of the near future have hit on a neat idea to quench the population’s bloodlust in return for a “better world” – once a year, the government advocates The Purge, where from 7pm until 7am all law enforcement officers, military and medical services are off duty for the entire night and everything is permitted. In order to alleviate its population’s stresses and frustrations from petty neighbourhood disputes, naive teenage hormonal urges or grievances of a more unforgiveable nature, as well as reduce the percentage of homelessness, unemployment and criminality, citizens are sanctioned to abuse and annihilate whoever they wish, breaking whatever laws they like until sunrise when they go back to their regular, normal lives.
As a result, The Purge is a resounding success for this twisted utopia: unemployment is at 1%, crime is virtually non-existent (for 364 and a half days of the year) and everybody’s that much nicer to everyone for the next twelve months – until the next Purge. Society however has become emotionally dishonest and apathetic, allowing itself to give in to its most brutal and horrifying fantasies, where no-one is safe.
Of course, with all globally viewed and supported events, there’s always money to be made and domestic security salesman James Sandin (Ethan Hawke – White Fang, Explorers) has The Purge to thank for his luxury family lifestyle, success and the opportunity allowing him to treat himself to a yacht, displaying the traditional blue flowers around the house which represent support of the annual cull, while capitalising on his neighbours’ anxieties for the coming night’s “festivities” by selling them all state-of-the-art security systems which turn their homes into fully enclosed fortresses at the push of a button, guaranteed 99% efficient.
As they feel they have no urges to purge, James and his calmly loving and loyal wife Mary (Lena Headey – Dredd, 300) prepare for a quiet night in with gadget-obsessed son Charlie (Max Burkholder) and lovelorn teenage daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) who’d much rather frolic in the arms of her older boyfriend if it wasn’t for the disapproving dad.
Their planned homely evening of dinner and a movie is disturbed however once Charlie decides to come to the aid of a homeless man on the run, ignored by the neighbourhood fixed to their CCTV monitors, releasing the house defences long enough to give the bloodied stranger sanctuary. Little do the Sandins realise that they have given safe haven to this year’s prey for a group of over-privileged, young, upstanding members of society who feel it their very duty to wear disturbing cartoon masks with grotesque smiles while going full psycho on their chosen target, or those that get in their way…
A futuristic spin on the home invasion thriller, The Purge is a cleverly constructed sci-fi satire with influences as diverse as the original Rollerball and Logan’s Run through to the government broadcasts of Starship Troopers. Writer-director James DeMonaco (Staten Island) crams a lot into his 85mins worth of bloodletting while staying within the confines of the somewhat initially restrictive, yet broadly developed, suburban setting of his pseudo-utopian vision though the audience may find sympathy for the film’s rich, pampered protagonists difficult, instead anticipating their inventive deaths. As a politically satirical cat-and-mouse shocker however, with the privileged 1% exploiting the rest of us, The Purge proves itself to be a more wholesome and efficient entertainment, never giving the audience too much to think about at any one time.
The final act may venture more into classic few-against-many territory but still has enough twists to make it to 7am in satisfying fashion, assisted by an excellent sound design and score by Nathan Whitehead. The cast, especially Headey who makes the closing third her own, all follow along with the shenanigans perfectly, especially the mischievous young strangers, led with sociopathic charm by Rhys Wakefield (Sanctum, Home & Away). Given the concept of a 12hr criminal free for all however, not unlike the concept of Devil’s Night from 1994’s The Crow, it would have been interesting to see more of the global effects of The Purge than simply the nonetheless entertaining montages that wrap around the storyline. That said, the film finds enough neat twists on its restrictive formula to maintain focus and potential sequels could well head in a wider direction in future if this film is as successful as it deserves to be. The Purge is a solid thriller with enough jumps and spontaneous violence to satisfy the masses.