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John’s Horror Corner: The Purge (2013), where social commentary meets intense violence.

June 15, 2013

MY CALL:  An intense, surprisingly well-executed film depicting a dystopian future built on a foundation of an economy-fueling organized mayhem.  Solid performances across the board!  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCHFunny Games (2007), The Strangers (2008), Assault on Precinct 13 (2005).

The opening scenes introduce us to a dystopian futuristic America in which we have overcome staggering recessions, unemployment and crime rates.  Everyone seems happy and at peace with the means that provide this thriving economy.

So what do they have to thank?  The Purge.  The Purge is a 12-hour period during which all crime is legal and all police, medical and emergency services are suspended.  Radio and news casts bombard viewers with soma-popping Brave New World mantras about “unleashing the beast within” to “cleanse [or purge] our inherently violent nature.”

What’s most interesting about this society is that The Purge is embraced by most everyone.  Sure, there are media debates on how The Purge “targets” the poor who can’t afford to defend themselves, but even the wealthy–with their armored home security systems–socialize, talk about what they’re doing during The Purge or “purge” together in hunting parties.

All of the pro-Purge political views are presented through an upper class filter–more specifically, the pro-Purge mindset of James Sandin (Ethan Hawke; Sinister, Daybreakers), a home security system salesman who lives in a ritzy neighborhood full of fake, well-to-do smiling neighbors.  This year, instead of attending a party, James is spending a quiet purge with his wife Mary (Lena Headey; Game of Thrones, Dredd, The Cave, The Brothers Grimm), son Charlie (Max Burkholder; Martian Child) and daughter Zooey (Adelaide Kane; Donner Pass, Teen Wolf).

James’ family is less embracing of The Purge than the rest of the neighborhood but, for fear of death, they abide by the social standard but do not themselves partake.  Catching more of our attention is James.  His security system sales are booming, he’s boat shopping and he talks a big game about supporting The Purge but when he justifies its value or explains to his son why he has never felt the urge to purge there is more than a dash of a hesitation in his tone.

Things begin to go wrong for the Sandins when Max sympathizes with an injured man.  He hears his cries for help on the surveillance system and disarms the security for long enough to let the man into the house for safety.  Shortly thereafter, a group of over-educated young adults led by polite stranger with an intensely striking sense of rich kid entitlement demand that the Sandins release the injured victim into their lethal care as a Purge tribute.

The disturbingly masked strangers.

If the Sandins don’t, the strangers threaten to penetrate the security system and kill everyone.  That’s what you get from the preview and I won’t give you any more except to say that things get interesting, intense, gory, fun (for violent film fans) and equal parts predictable and unpredictable.

I thought all of the actors did a fine job.  Some may consider the polite stranger (Rhys Wakefield) to be pretty hammed up, but I thought his supervillainous, sociopathic and zealous mentality helped separate this strong film from the likes of The Strangers, which carried no social commentary or message whatsoever.  As extreme as the premise may seem in The Purge, I must admit that it got me thinking.  Not necessarily “agreeing,” but thinking.

I went into this movie excited because of the preview, but nervous as to how it would play out.  In the end I feel that all of my positive expectations were met and none of the bad came to fruition.  I was very pleased.

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