The Purge suggests that a few short years from now American society will have solved crime and unemployment by allowing Brooks Brothers-clad American Psychos to roam the countryside hunting homeless people and the yuppies who hide them.
For one 12-hour period each year, all crime—including, and it seems especially, murder—is legal. There are no cops, no ambulances, no fire trucks. This "country-wide catharsis" allows us to purge "the aggression we all have inside of us," according to "scienticians" yammering exposition on televisions in the background. Sure, some poor people might die, James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) admits to his family. "We can afford protection. … Just remember all the good the purge does—that’s all that matters."
It is unclear to me just how such a scenario would reduce unemployment or stop crime the other 8,748 hours in the year. Judging by the giggles in the preview audience, I was not alone in my confusion. I imagine D.C. residents are less worried about marauding bands of sociopathic stockbrokers than they are of, say, street gangs.
It is hinted that this isn’t so much an emotional purge as it is a purge of undesirable elements from society. The wealthy feel "entitled" to "go hunting" the "have-nots" and "dirty homeless pigs" because "it’s time to quiet down and do our duties as Americans" before going home to recite the nation’s new prayer: "Blessed be the new founding fathers" for instituting the purge.
Honest to god, these are all lines in the film. Writer/director James DeMonaco isn’t exactly trafficking in subtlety.
The purge has been particularly good to Sandin, a purveyor of home security systems that keep bad folks out during the yearly 12-hour criminal spree. He and his wife (Lena Headey) have added a brand new wing to their home, much to the chagrin of their jealous neighbors.
Son Charlie (Max Burkholder) and daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) are less content with the state of affairs. Charlie puts the whole family at risk when he disarms the family security system to shelter a homeless man (Edwin Hodge) being hunted by a group of 20-something Masters of the Universe types.
The Purge is modestly effective as a home-invasion thriller. It’s neither as entertaining as David Fincher’s Panic Room, nor as viscerally terrifying as Bryan Bertino’s claustrophobic The Strangers. But the Sandin’s sprawling McMansion, as well as the inexplicable inability of the children to stay with their parents as murderers roam the home, lends some excitement to the proceedings.
DeMonaco’s new film calls to mind George Romero at his worst, when the famed horror auteur lets his rhetorical id run wild in films such as Land of the Dead and the Really Important Political Points overwhelmed the story.
In The Purge, subtext is just text. It cripples the audience’s ability to engage in suspension of disbelief. And it encourages mocking laughter.