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The Purge (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 88 minutes.

Not for children.

The time is nine years from now, America in 2022. The “New Founders of America” have decreed that every year there will be a 12 hour period when all laws are suspended, including murder. The idea is for people to get rid of all their bad urges in this 12 hour period. As a result, according to the government, violent crime is way down the rest of the year.

The story germinated in the mind of writer/director James DeMonaco when he juxtaposed two incidents in his mind. The first was a road rage confrontation he had in the presence of his wife. The second occurred a few years later when he was living in Toronto and noticed that the Canadian TV news was far less violent than American news, which concentrates on violent acts. So he devised this story as a devastating indictment, not on American culture, but on the news that the main stream media chooses to report, and how that affects American culture.

James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) has made a fortune building houses that can be turned into fortresses for wonderful security. After he and his wife, Mary (Lena Heady) and two children Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane) prepare for the night of purging, it begins. As a bloody stranger (Edwin Hodge) enters the picture, things quickly go from good to bad to horrible.

If you can suspend your incredulity, and accept the premise, this is a gripping thriller aided immeasurably by tension-enhancing music (Nathan Whitehead) and neo-Gothic cinematography (Jacques Jouffret), which keep this from descending into a camp horror film. It is produced by Michael Bay who knows his way around a thriller.

Hawke, Heady, Burkholder, Kane, and Hodge give fine performances, as does the main bad guy, Rhys Wakefield, who is unfailingly but frightenly polite and well-dressed. This was on the cusp of being camp and laughable, but for me it held up, even through the violent, bloody ending.

June 4, 2013