MOVIE REVIEW: Ethan Hawke stars in violent thriller The Purge



Imagine the year is 2022. The United States has become a "nation reborn" which basically means that crime and unemployment rates are at all-time lows.

These signs of progress are attributed to a government-sanctioned 12-hour period called The Purge. During this time period which starts March 21, 7 pm and ends March 22, 7 am, all criminal activity like murder, theft, rape, and more are legal.

Designed to act as a form of catharsis for the new and progressive American people, The Purge allows citizens to cleanse their souls, venting out negative emotions without fear of consequences.

No emergency services are available during The Purge time frame, so that means that no medical, fire, police, or rescue personnel are available.

The Purge is a period of time on that one day of every year where there are no rules except for one: government officials of rank 10 and up must remain unharmed and usage of weaponry above Class 4 (such as weapons of mass destruction) is forbidden.

Imagine this movie called The Purge starring a very handsome, older version of himself, Ethan Hawke. His wife is portrayed by the very beautiful Lena Headey of Game of Thrones fame looking so unlike her Cersei Lannister persona.

Well, James DeMonaco did more than imagine, he decided to write and direct this science fiction-suspense thriller film and bring it round to the 2013 audience.

In a season where we see all the big summer blockbuster movies rolling out of American cinemas, The Purge offers a different kind of flavor. Its cinematic style is reminiscent of Paranormal Activity and Sinister (the same studio, Blumhouse Productions was involved), as the latter also starred Ethan Hawke.

The Purge has an R-13 rating and for good reason. The scenes of violent footage captured from CCTV scenes are graphic and morbid, to say the least. The actual fight scenes and I'm-about-to-kill-you scenes are appropriately gory, suspense-filled and loud.

"Release the beast and purge our American streets" is uttered seveal times and its corresponding actions both feel like an eerie reference to that time in American history when Ku Klux Klan was prominent.

The intention of The Purge is based on this mantra "Blessed be our New Founding Fathers for letting us Purge and cleanse our souls. Blessed be America, a nation reborn."

But like with many things in America, even its intention has been subverted, where emotional cleansing has become secondary only to the more apparent action seen in every Purge, as the movie has chosen to depict it: the complete and utter annihilation of all the homeless, poor, and have-nots. Not to say that there is no emotional cleansing; on the contrary, the way this is manifested in the movie was both shocking and utterly unimaginable.

The issue of social inequality is highlighted in this movie through the lives of the haves: the Sandin family and their neighbors living in their posh gated community. James and Mary Sandin (Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey) have become affluent because of James's success at selling security systems to every family in their neighborhood.

Yet a persistent longing for something better than just a .1% all year-round crime rate is manifested in the character of the Sandin's son, Henry (played by Tony Oller), and the homeless man who inadvertently ends up playing a very crucial role in the movie's plot progression.

Henry starts asking questions that are most likely on every viewer's mind. The young boy asks his parents "why don't you guys do it?" since the point of The Purge as he has studied, is emotional catharsis but his parents do not participate in the crime escapade. The young boy also asks "can't it be done any other way?" Henry simply cannot grasp why people have to resort to treating other people like animals during the annual Purge.

Each of the characters undergo a natural arc of emotional ups and downs to drive the issue of conflict forward, but in the end, The Purge somewhat leaves a bitter aftertaste.

This bitter aftertaste is because many things are left unanswered, things such as: the fundamental questions on the necessity of The Purge; the Sandin's continuing co-existence with their neighbors who apparently are not at all what they project to be; and the general well-being of a society that allows something like The Purge to happen thereby creating desensitized citizens for 12 hours. It is bothersome to see citizens who can normally be compassionate but in this period, lose all sense of humanity and kindness.

While the intention of the movie is perhaps to highlight the fact that social inequality and injustice will continue to exist, the manner by which it is eventually solved by the new Founding Fathers leaves more questions than answers.

Also, the fact that citizens of this new time—those who do not participate in The Purge—can calmly watch and view The Purge footage from the safety and security of their homes leaves much to be desired. The calm nonchalance by which this TV message is received by the movie's main protagonists is worrisome: "This is your emergency broadcast system announcing the commencement of the annual Purge. At the siren, all emergency assistance will be suspended for 12 hours. Your government thanks you for your participation. Non-compliance with any of the aforementioned rules will result in death by hanging. Commencing at the siren, any and all crime, up to, and including murder, will be legal for 12 continuous hours. Police, fire and hospital aid will be unavailable until Thursday morning, March 22, at 7 AM, when The Purge concludes. Blessed be our New Founding Fathers and America, a nation reborn."

The Purge is released under Universal Pictures. This is for mature viewers who are willing to take a look at a completely new way of solving crime, among other things. But what should be remembered, it is only a movie and it is only trying to present a different way of looking at things.


Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.

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