Director: James DeMonaco
Writer: James DeMonaco
Cinematographer: Jacques Jouffret
by Jon Cvack
With a 2.7 recommended rating, I took my time getting to this one. After watching both the original and the sequel back to back, I have to say it stands to become one of the coolest horror series since Saw. And since I’m near-alone in thinking that the Saw series was so awesome, maybe the best since the Scream series.
The idea is simple - a putative Far Right faction called the New Founding Fathers has reformed the government, who have instituted a 12 hour period during the spring equinox, in which anyone can kill or be killed (except for politicians, who are exempt). I see that Wikipedia calls this a totalitarian regime and police state, but I’d refute this given that - with the exception of The Purge’s half day murder marathon - nothing else has really changed from anyone’s day to day to life.
The story revolves around James Sandlin (Ethan Hawke) who has acquired an extravagant amount of wealth by selling complex house security systems for this one half day out of the year. His wife, Mary (Lena Headey) despises The Purge and expresses discomfort for the whole event. Her children Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder) are fairly normal kids, with Charlie developing a strange, camera device that has a camera inside a half burned doll head, positioned upon a miniature motorized tank, while Zoey explores the lascivious side of her teenage years with an older boyfriend who the father has condemned. The family sits down to a meal. There’s the typical fighting and making up, it’s all so normal. And then The Purge begins. James assembles everyone in their home’s security hub and enables the shutdown sequence - the cameras go on, the metal doors engage, covering all the windows and doors, protecting them from any unwanted visited while trapping them inside.
What worked for me were the unexpected choices of each of the characters. With Charlie, I figured he was attracted to the murders, exemplified by his creepy eyebrows and macabre toys, and we discover he actually felt a moral obligation to help one of the homeless people. With the homeless man (Edwin Hodge), I figured he’d have changed things up, hoping to get into the house in order to murder them all. Zoey’s boyfriend, while mildly predictable, was interesting for how quickly James shot him ded. Even the actual invaders, specifically the leader (Rhys Wakefield), did a phenomenal job of explaining to what end the rich see the event; something the sequel would explore in more detail; that is, in order to combat against poverty, the rich could kill off the poor. It’s their absolute right. After, you realize that this idea of economic inequality extends to the neighbors who turn on the Sadlins, who believe they exploited the day for their own financial benefit (via James’ security systems) and don’t deserve to live such an extravagant life.
It is now clear that just as torture porn dominated the 00s, these home invasion films are starting to take center stage - with the success of You’re Next, The Strangers, Straw Dogs remake, and with how wildly successful The Purge was (having taken in $89 million against its measly $3 million budget), it's clear that this is horror's new sub-genre. As inequality rises, I think these films are exploring an interesting idea, well embodied in James Spandlin who we discover has no idea whether or not the security system can actually function and thus the whole story is a comeuppance for his exploiting people’s vulnerabilities for his own personal gain. And yet he adds a humanity to the character. He’s a good dad, who wants the best for his family, and ends up paying for the corners he cut.
BELOW: The shutdown sequence. One of the best hooks in all of horror
Thoughts on films, old and new
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