'The Purge' is a new horror movie classic

A new horror movie classic, The Purge unleashes the monsters in our friends, our neighbors and ourselves. In the near-at-hand future of 2022, federal law sanctioned by a new regime called the New Founders of America (NFA) declares that all crime, including murder, is legal one night a year. Bad stuff can happen and no one, including the police, will do anything to stop it.

The Purge has things in common with violence-wracked home invasion movies that preceded it, recent examples being 2007’s Funny Games, in which Naomi Watts and her family are terrified by preppy psychopaths, and The Strangers, featuring Liv Tyler as one-half of a suburban couple whose isolated home is attacked by a trio of masked strangers.

This latest home invasion movie nightmare builds brilliantly from its simple concept, executing and exploiting the idea for maximum impact.

The Purge, even as it focuses tightly on a single, well-to-do family living in a gated community, expands its vision into deftly applied social and political commentary. In that respect, the film owes something to Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 classic, A Clockwork Orange, which includes a gleefully sadistic home assault and the film’s principal character’s government-sanctioned behavior modification.

Wholesale violence is what’s sanctioned in The Purge. However much a democracy the film’s U.S. of the future remains, the annual Purge night is a real fright night. The scarier thing, though, is the rationalization for this drastic turn in public policy and how seemingly normal people buy into it and participate in it on a nationwide scale. “Release the beast” isn’t just a TV catch phrase, it’s a patriotic slogan.

Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey play James and Mary Sandin. A decade before the events of Purge night 2022, James and Mary were the struggling parents of two young children, Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder).

James has since become a top salesman at a company that sells deluxe security systems that include retractable armor for exterior doors and windows. James, having profited so much from Purge night, can afford to live in a gated community and install the best home security money can buy. And he’s a fervent supporter of the Purge.

Hawke — a regular player in the films of writer-director James DeMonaco — Headey and the rest of the cast all run with the movie’s audacious premise and ultra-violence. But it’s DeMonaco (The Negotiator, Assault on Precinct 13, Staten Island, New York) who’s the film’s real star. He’s made a movie that will shake audiences and give them something to think about.

DeMonaco works his way up to national terror night with an eerily quiet prelude. People don’t part company with a “goodbye” or a “good night” or a “good luck.” They calmly, robotically say: “Have a safe night.”

No such luck for the Sandins. Surprised by the initial burst of Purge night madness that erupts in his home, the puzzled James Sandin says that he and his family live in a neighborhood where what’s happening is not supposed to happen.

The Purge, described in its Universal Studios production notes as a speculative thriller, renders its fictional class warfare and fictional misguided government policy as a shocking jolt of entertainment.