The USA, 2022. A new regime has brought down crime rates and made society safer by instituting the eponymous purge, an annual 12-hour period when all crime is legal, and righteous, law-abiding citizens can storm the land, venting their murderous fury on anyone too poor to be able to defend themselves.
The latter category does not include the Sandins, an affluent Californian family whose paterfamilias, James (Ethan Hawke) funds their pleasant suburban lifestyle by selling home alarms designed to protect properties during the annual mayhem. As the US counts down to the purge, James begins lockdown, congratulating himself on being rich, successful and well protected from the sadistic killers limbering up outside, ready to maraud. What could possibly go wrong?
Unsurprisingly, James soon discovers that the family is not as safe as the spiel he gave when flogging his alarms might have implied. Cue an enjoyably tense if very violent parable, part taut home-invasion thriller, and part right-minded though rather unsubtle argument for gun control.
Writer and director James DeMonaco has crafted a neat, tight movie, deftly setting the scene for the imminent bloodletting with the Stepford Wives-esque neighborhood the Sandins inhabit, where rictus-smile exchanges of pleasantries cover seething resentments and sinister urges.
The film’s violence is extreme, though the most basic advance knowledge of the storyline should mean no viewer is caught unawares by this, and it cannot be accused of being gratuitous. The movie works best as an effective thriller, with juicy and unpredictable plot twists along with the more conventional developments.
It makes less headway with the big issues it wrestles with. How one balances family responsibilities with general morality and duties as a citizen, how to protect the poor from the disproportionate impact crime has on them, the individual value of human beings, class divisions – all of these are more complex questions than an 85-minute film can answer, however gamely it tries.
But arguments for greater access to weapons in order to somehow reduce violent crime, and the translation of violence into increased profits and share price for defense companies have huge relevance today in areas from US gun law to foreign invasions. The Purge is relevant social commentary as much as entertainment.
Director: James DeMonaco
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield
The Purge was shown as part of the Dracula Film Festival in Brasov.