By Dan Metcalf
Clipper Film Correspondent
The Purge (Universal)
Rated R for strong disturbing violence and some language.
Starring Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, Tony Oller, Arija Bareikis, Tom Yi, Chris Mulkey, Tisha French, Dana Bunch, Peter Gvozdas.
Written and directed by James DeMonaco.
Catharsis, some believe, is good for the soul. Others (actually, most psychologists) believe acting out one's aggressions only encourages more aggression. The Purge is a movie that explores the concept of blowing off a little steam in order to create a safer society.
The year is 2022. The USA has adopted a new policy of allowing all citizens 12 hours every year to live without law or emergency services during a night called “The Purge.” Citizens are allowed to commit murder, thus ridding society of less desirable types. The idea behind the purge is to allow natural selection, rage and revenge to prevail, which is supposed to have some sort of cleansing effect.
Ethan Hawke stars as James Sandin, a successful businessman who sells home pricey security systems for those who can afford to stay safe during the purge. As purge night approaches, he's content to stay locked up in his fortress-like mansion until the killing is over along with his wife Mary (Lena Headey), teenage daughter Zoe (Adelaide Kane) and young son Charlie (Max Burkholder).
After the purge begins, Charlie takes pity on black stranger (Edwin Hodge) and gives him refuge inside the Sandin home. The injured stranger is being hunted by a ruthless gang of preppie white kids, led by a polite, creepy fellow (Rhys Wakefield). The polite youngsters wear clownish masks, and seek to kill the stranger for sport, as is their purging right. When Charlie lets the stranger inside the family home, the preppie gang threatens to break inside and kill the entire family, unless the Sandins give him up.
Further complicating things is Zoe's boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller), who stows away inside the home before the purge begins. James must deal with Henry (who has purge designs of his own), the stranger, and the preppie gang in order to survive. Later, James must also deal with a few jealous neighbors.
The Purge starts from a premise that seems poised to provoke moral thought. Questions arise, such as: Should society be allowed to weed out less desirable elements by natural selection? Who should decide who lives or dies? Why did I pay 10 bucks for this movie? All morals aside, when it comes down to it, The Purge is not much more than a sub par slasher/horror movie; sort of like a zombie movie without dead people.
During the screening I attended, the audience ironically cheered on as certain bad guys got their due (so much for learning a moral). All those deep questions seem lost in a gimmicky blood fest, complete with the scary movie cliche of loud music stings whenever a bad guy materializes around every dark corner.
The Purge is a dumb movie about a dumb idea that makes audiences dumber than they were before seeing it. If you're sickened by the actual surveillance footage of murders used in the movie, then perhaps you shouldn't entertain the idea of being entertained by a movie that glorifies such atrocity, even under the guise of provoking thought. In other words, if you already think murder is a bad thing, maybe you shouldn't ponder the alternative.
I suppose that's why most experts think catharsis only encourages bad behavior.
Either way, The Purge won't give you any cleansing feeling – it will only leave you thirsty for more blood.