The Purge (2013)

Review first appeared in Sight & Sound, August 2013

Synopsis: 2022, America. On the night of the annual Purge, a legalised “countrywide catharsis” of mayhem and murder, security salesman James Sandin, wife Mary and children Zoey and Charlie lock down. Zoey’s boyfriend Henry is killed confronting a disapproving James. Meanwhile, a posse of local bourgeois co-eds besieges the house demanding a homeless veteran whom Charlie has admitted. After much soul-searching, James and Mary decide to defend the veteran and their home. After James is killed by the intruders, envious neighbours intervene, wanting to kill the remaining Sandins themselves. Mary and the veteran overpower – and spare – the neighbours.

Review: James DeMonaco’s dystopian satire The Purge envisages an American dream built upon the “sacrifice” of a disposable underclass. During the 12 hours of the annual Purge, anyone can be killed with impunity – although the legislature is exempt, the affluent can afford to lock down in their well-protected homes or to treat ‘the hunt’ as mere sport, leaving the economically marginalised as the easiest prey. As a gated community’s WASP-ish, over-entitled youths and pettily resentful curtain-twitchers resort to bloody murder and prove to be blithely willing torturers and executioners, the Sandins may find both themselves and their middle-class values under siege, but the principal victim, as well as the film’s moral centre, is a homeless African-American war veteran (Edwin Hodge), marked in every way as Other on these manicured lawns.

Like Scott Stewart’s Dark Skies and Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, DeMonaco’s film shows post-crunch American genre cinema turning an anxious gaze towards bourgeois insecurity and class division. It is just a pity that the toxic social allegory promised here is soon abandoned for lazier home invasion thrills and siege scenarios reboiled from DeMonaco’s screenplays for The Negotiator and the Assault on Precinct 13 remake.

Anton Bitel