A family is held hostage for harboring the target of a murderous syndicate during the Purge, a 12-hour period in which any and all crime is legalized.
Ever wanted to go wild and act on all those anarchic feelings of pent-up rage that fester as obsessions until they make you crazy? In the world of the near future portrayed in The Purge, the government has come up with a solution that has led to a virtually crime-free society. One night a year, taking action on those bottled-up emotions is absolutely legal. For 12 hours anything goes, up to and including murder, without judgment or punishment of any kind. Yes, it's preposterous, but the movie limits the scenario to a tested formula--a family holed up together on an island (their luxury home) to fight off evil--that boils the premise down to microcosm. As such, The Purge is a taut thriller that often falls back on tropes yet manages to sustain chills and surprises in spite of a few weary devices made popular by countless horror movies. Ethan Hawke plays James Sandin, a devoted family man who has made a fortune selling security systems to the upscale, gated-community homeowners who want to protect themselves from common folk hungry for the taste of blood on Purge night. The Sandins have no need to purge and eschew violence, so during the Purge they lock down the house (thanks to James's top-of-the-line products and services) and wait for the mayhem to pass. But even the best security system is only as strong as its operator, and James's young son is too sympathetic to let a homeless man be killed by marauding purgers wearing spooky masks, so he breaks protocol and gives the man sanctuary. The purgers don't like that, so they threaten to kill everyone if James does not give up the hostage. Set entirely in the darkened maze of the house, a bloody cat-and-mouse game begins and many players engage in the murderous stakes, including James's teenage daughter's boyfriend, who would like to bury the axe he's been grinding right into James's head. And when the security system proves to be not so impenetrable after all, the frights become genuinely scary, as do the responses of the Sandin family, not to mention their neighbors. It turns out many of them have been James's customers and hold a grudge against his exploitation, thereby nurturing their resentment until this year's Purge. The Purge's premise would have been intriguing to explore outside the confines of a single incident in one home, but the scares keep coming, building to an effective sense of tension and dread. It's all released as dawn breaks after the hell night. The Purge ends on an unexpected, satisfying note, even though many of the characters undoubtedly walk away with some lingering obsessions. Just wait until next year. --Ted Fry