‘The Purge’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 15th, 2014 at 12:36 am,

The Purge Reviews starring Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey 2013 The Purge Review

The Purge is an easily commendable film to those who like the short, sweet, and cathartic violent enjoyment of a solid thriller.

In The Purge we witness an imminent future (the year 2022) in which America has created a new system for controlling crime, violence and poverty. Known as the annual “Purge,” the ‘new founding fathers’ declare that for one day every year, all crime is legal while emergency and law enforcement services are shut down for a span of twelve hours.

James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is a top salesman at a security systems firm, who lives with his wife Mary (Lena Headey), daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and gifted son Charlie (Max Burkholder) in a wealthy gated community, whose pristine streets are spared from the annual night of savagery. Things go horribly wrong when sympathetic Charlie allows a wounded man (Edwin Hodge) to take refuge in the Sandin’s home, thereby attracting a posse of murderous upper-crust socialites, who demand the Sandins return the group’s lost quarry… or face brutal consequences.

Ethan Hawke Lena Headey and Max Burkholder in The Purge The Purge Review

Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey and Max Burkholder in ‘The Purge’

The Purge is basically Shirley Jackson’s seminal horror story “The Lottery” refashioned as a quasi-philosophical, B-movie horror/thriller. Whenever the film is delving into philosophical quandary and social commentary, it is often an excellent piece of work; unfortunately, that excellence is dragged down by silly horror movie cliches and some lackluster characters. Overall, though, the movie is a tightly-paced and effective thrill-ride experience.

James DeMonaco both wrote and directed the The Purge. While his director credits are short (this film and an indie flick called Little New York), his writing resume includes such memorable (but still B-movie-level) thrillers like The Negotiator and the 2005 Assault on Precinct 13 remake, which also starred Ethan Hawke. Like those aforementioned films, The Purge is a very tightly-paced and well-staged thriller, and DeMonaco (along with veteran cinematographer Jacques Jouffret) manages to turn the single-setting into a proper horror movie set piece. In general, the entire movie is surprisingly well-crafted and creates a definite atmosphere of second-to-second tension, with a few good horror scares and thrilling action sequences, to boot.

Edwin Hodge in The Purge The Purge Review

Edwin Hodge in ‘The Purge’

On the script side of things, DeMonaco is clearly borrowing from Jackson’s story of complacency and tradition run amok, but he puts what he borrows to pretty good use in terms of crafting an interesting premise which engenders a simple but deliciously twisted spin on the survival-horror sub-genre. The most unnerving thing about The Purge is that the concept creates a sort of ‘Body Snatchers-type fear; no one can be sure how anyone around them is going to react, given the opportunity for violence, which keeps things uncertain and edgy.

DeMonaco’s tale, while often obvious and heavy-handed (but subtly brilliant at other times), is nonetheless a piercing head-trip in terms of core themes. In fact, watching it in theaters – watching audiences howling and cheering for gruesome violence – is enough to fill your head with dread about who your neighbor in the next seat truly is – or at least would be, given an opportunity to “purge themselves.” There is definitely something unnervingly relevant and timely about The Purge and its commentary on our collective (and respective) psychology – just as Jackson’s “Lottery” still has frightening resonation more than sixty years later. For those concerned: The Purge is not so much political as philosophical, and  - given its approach to the subject matter – is generally one of the better horror/thriller concepts to come along in awhile.

Adelaide Kane in The Purge The Purge Review

Adelaide Kane in ‘The Purge’

Now for the rub…

Married to this intriguing premise and timely commentary is a schlocky horror flick, filled with big logical gaps and a few hollow characters who only exist to serve the film’s manic plotline. While Ethan Hawke (Sinister) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) are both top-notch in their respective roles as Mr. & Mrs. Sandin, their children – played by Parenthood star Max Burkholder and Power Rangers R.P.M. star Adelaide Kane – are (in no uncertain terms) poorly-drawn horror movie cliches.

Young Charlie and teenage Zoey are literally walking MacGuffins who flit in and out of the shadows at different points (according to some vague narrative logic) solely  to force the adult characters (and the audience) to constantly seek some new objective in the house or examine their morals –  all while the threat of danger to the Sandin brood keeps things on the razor’s edge of tension. Burkholder does as well as he can with his part, but Kane’s acting, like her character, sinks deep into annoying caricature territory.

Rhys Wakefield in The Purge The Purge Review

Rhys Wakefield in ‘The Purge’

On the other hand, we are given some better characters in the form of our “villains,” a roving band of elitist psychos in smiley face masks (why complicate things with names?). Their leader (credited as “Polite Stranger” and played by Rhys Wakefield) is a pretty freaky guy, who does about as well as one can with his on-the-nose monologues about society’s “proper order” and such. Edwin Hodge (Cougar Town) is equally good as the “Bloody Stranger” the Sandins take in, keeping his nature vague but interesting enough to pull off one of the film’s better arcs. The third act pushes things (and a few of the actors in the ensemble) into a campy realm of melodrama, before settling into what is either one of the most brilliantly witty or awkwardly terrible conclusions to a horror/thriller film that I’ve seen.

 Despite ending on a strange note, and containing some cliched horror movie characters and tropes, The Purge is an easily commendable film to those who like the short, sweet, and cathartic violent enjoyment of a solid thriller –  and/or those who enjoy entertaining movies that also leave you with something to think about. Those looking for a good horror movie might not get the “scares” they want – but tension they will enjoy in earnest, along with a few good laughs at those “I’m going in the basement alone” moments in the script. All in all, a solid bit of work from Mr. DeMonaco.

…Whom we should all thank when real-life “Purge Clubs” start showing up in neighborhoods nationwide.

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The Purge is now playing in theaters. It is 85 minutes long and is Rated R for strong disturbing violence and some language.

Want to discuss Spoilers and the Ending to the film? Go to our Purge Spoilers Discussion.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out upcoming episodes of the SR Underground podcast. Or join the epic discussion over in the “How Would YOU Survive The Purge” comment thread.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

Follow Kofi Outlaw on Twitter @ppnkof
TAGS: The Purge
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  1. So in other words, the writer/director spent more time focusing on creating cool villains and left the main characters as flat and one dimensional then?

    Otherwise, it sounds pretty damn good. It came out over here last week but I’ve been waiting for the SR review to help clarify things, which you have. Thanks Kofi.

  2. Sounds like the original Star Trek episode – Return of the Archons.

    • My thoughts exactly.

      • Well, these comparisons certainly haven’t been made before…

    • HA, so I’m not the only one!

      Bow to the will of Landru and become a part of the body!

  3. Okay sorry Kofi but when you say “take refuse into the Sandin home” instead of take refuge, that is hilarious. I think somebody bringing garbage into another’s home would be an awesome plot device. The horrors of smelly garbage!

    • Well, that guy is very messy…


      Thanks for the catch.

      • i also like the “Despiste” in the last paragraph…

        • Corrected as well. Thanks!

      • The more the writer writes the more this happens.
        Words tend to auto-correct mentally and you
        literally do not see any possible error.

        Which is a main reason why even
        the greatest writers had editors.

  4. Man this movie should have been shot in a different style, in Horror movies cops or anyone else to help never show up anyway until everyone is dead. I just don’t see the point of putting them in the house and having the villains coming to get them.

    • Well, that’s the point of this movie. All police forces and response teams are shut off for one night. All crime is legal so no one can help you. Being alone is the point; did you watch the trailer or anything? :P

  5. Still on the fence, Trying to figure out if it is legal to commit crime for 12 hours, why the masks? Yea the villains always look creepy even when they are not being bad, you just already know they are. that’s a given. Kind of a short flick and mixed reviews. Might wait for VOD or PPV in a few weeks – ahaah

    • Without knowing the real answer because I haven’t seen the movie, my idea is that while all crime may be legal on this one night, that doesn’t mean people you know might not look at you differently after seeing exactly what you had “purged” from yourself the night before. Even if this is somehow seen to be a necessary horror, surely everyone wouldn’t be able to shed fear of one they know to be a killer, torturer, or raper. Then people might start to feel guilty and stop participating, which would be bad, I guess…

    • I think the masks are so friends of the victims don’t hunt you down for revenge

  6. I saw this in the pre-screening in NYC. Thanks screenrant!

    Took my sister in law who loves horror movies. I just thought it could have been better. I didn’t think the villains were original. They were lazy copies of any other psychos from any other movie.

    They should have been real people. Real people who want to get there kill on for no other reason than because they can is much more frightening than psychos.

    Ask any minority who grew up in America’s 50′s Deep South that question and they’ll tell you it’s a scary situation.

    • Aren’t people that kill others just because they can the definition of a psycho? Any sane person that would kill would have a logical reason behind it.

      As for the movie, I like the fresh original idea of having crime legal for twelve hours. Most films these days are boring or completely unoriginal. How many times are we going to have the broken down car can we use your phone story?

      • No they are not. In this movie it’s supposed to be fairly normal and legal. Most murders are committed by normal people. Not psychos.

        • Switch out “normal” for “sociopaths” and you’d have it right.

          And @Bad Puppy

          This isn’t actually an original idea. I’ve seen it dozens of times at least.

          • Really? Where?

        • Granting that’s true, how do you explain the shooting at that kindergarten and that guy who shot people at that Batman movie he said he was the Joker for crying out loud

          • Whoops. Second comment was meant for Epluribus. Sorry my bad

          • Some people defy easy explanation, obviously. He said MOST murders, not all, therefore SOME will be committed by pyscho- or sociopaths. I don’t get what point you’re driving at. The claim made by Epluribus wasn’t a wild one. Of course most people who kill aren’t like those who commit mass shootings. You realize that most who die from gun violence didn’t die in something like that, right?

            • Yeah, there are rare exceptions to everything.

  7. Great idea, but it looks like they failed to use it and make it into a good movie.

  8. I like the concept as far as a story goes, and it was overall a good execution. Personally I think it might have been more effective if it was set in the first year of the Purge to further grey the line of moral ambiguity.

    • That would have been cool. What if one town decided to purge a neighboring town?! Because they lost the annual high school football game? Lol

      • I’m willing to bet THAT’S been done before. lol

        • Ever read Clive Barker? In the Books of Blood there’s a wonderful story you just made me think of called “In the hills, in the cities” (I think that’s it).

          • Love Clive Barker! Never read Books of Blood. I’ll have to check it out. Sounds cool.
            Ever see the Clive Barker film MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN?
            That s**t was crazy!

  9. Thanks to you, Kofi, I know where to file this.

    There is enough here to want to see this at some
    point but not enough to get me out to the theater.

    I will slot this in late one night where I can easily
    forgive/dismiss any flaws like the cliched horror.

    • With you, Mr. Palmer. This and other reviews lend this movie to the “way better at home with the lights off and comments welcome” then in the theaters.

      Besides, wouldn’t a home invasion movie be just a tad creepier watching it at home??? I know I liked “The Strangers” a ton more watching at the house and peering outside just to be sure there were no shadows out there lurking…..

      • Home is the best stage for this kind of film.
        The setting for the reasons you point out and
        others enhances the movie making it more effective.

        It is also easier to let go and play along, roll over any
        flaws which is harder to do in a theater, and enjoy it.

  10. I thought it was great! If a little predictable. Really exposed my wife and some of my friends dubious morals!

  11. Is de greatest evaaaaaa, Like the mostest i have ever been around evaa!

    • Ya, Ya Jason! Is de goodest in de engrish! Like mi gooshness!

      • What are you guys talking about? IS NOT DE GOODEST

      • Germans!

    • Get outta here, TROLL. This is one of the only sites I trust for movie reviews. Why come here, take time out of your day to read the review, only to bash the website and it’s writers? Oh right… That’s what trolls do.

      @ Kofi Outlaw, cheers for the review. You did a fine job. Appreciated it and have been looking forward to this movie. I can forgive horror cliches for a good premise. Will be taking the girlfriend to this one today!

    • Come on. Why don’t you turn that conspiracy-hunting brain to something more interesting? I don’t know about you, but if I was forcing someone to make a favorable review, I may have suggested that he leave out the word “schlock” when describing some elements of the work. Plus we all know Kofi works very hard and has been saving a very long time for those new cars.

      Seriously, I hope that was a lame attempt at a joke (compare it to my lame attempt to confirm).

    • Raymond Tillson,

      Not that I should even dignify your comment with a response, but for the benefit of others who might actually believe you – here are a few other movies we’ve reviewed and have been advertised on this site:

      The Apparition: 0.5 stars
      The Possession: 2 stars
      Resident Evil Retribution: 2 stars
      Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D: 1.5 stars
      Hansel & Gretel: 2 stars
      Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter: 2.5 stars

      Yeah, we sure are bought and paid for.

      Vic Holtreman, President, Screen Rant, LLC

      • Screen Rant’s record of independence is
        clear to anyone who has paid any attention.

        The small sample you list, Vic, are all much bigger
        productions than this 3 million dollar budget film.
        Plus Mr. Tillson seems ignorant of how Internet
        advertising works making his charge just silly.

        Screen Rant has something that can’t be
        bought or paid for, and that is integrity.

  12. It was okay but could have been much better. This should focus more on the purging concept like the family turning each other and giving in to their dark desires like Zoey turning on her father.

    • should this be marked as a mild spoiler?

      • No.

  13. The concept sounded terrible and the previews looked stupid. Will be avoiding this one despite the decent review from Screen Rant.

    • Is this cause Godzilla’s not in it?

  14. OK let’s wax philosophical for a minute. Let’s say that this scenario was true (note: I haven’t seen the movie yet so they may have addressed it). Regardless as to whether it was legal or not, what would naturally occur in this scenario is individuals would structure private security police forces in localized neighborhoods to enforce order ANYWAY!

    If a neighborhood was not wealthy enough to do this, would would secondarily occur is that neighborhoods would organize themselves together to fend against the onslaught.

    Think about what you would do? You would probably armor up, connect with your family and friends a many as you can, and protect your people.

    Just thinking about the concept in the real world if was going to be applied in a civil society setting as is the premise of the movie.

    • You have way too much faith in your neighbors, dude

      • The entire point of the movie is that people hide resentments about family, friends, neighbors – and the scary thing about The Purge is not the roving bands of randoms, but rather the threat close to you that you never see coming.

        Imagine: your wife/girlfriend is fed up with you, cheating on you, you have NO idea; but on “Purge” day she sees the opportunity to get you out of the picture for good, with no consequences. Or you’re a teacher and your Top “A” student tries to blow you face off over that one “B” you gave her.

        That’s the kind of stuff you have to consider here. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” threats; is anyone what they seem?

        • Exactly. This is why the idea seemed cool to me. You couldn’t do all those things that other poster recommended because all the normal societal constraints are void and no one can really be trusted, especially considering this is a society that has somehow convinced itself that this Purge is a necessary thing.

        • That’s why I try to be nice to everyone.
          I’d still be packing though.

  15. If jerry falwell were a lefty and made movies…this would be it…preachy and boring. I want my money back

    • Some people are able to see the politics of those they oppose in everything.

      • Could make for an interesting sequel though.
        Bunch of religious nuts start cleansing towns of sinners in the name of god.

        We could call it Purge of Sin

        • I like it. But there would have to be a story with a major plot twist. Since this idea has been done before

  16. oh brother

  17. So the son with his moronic views, not understanding the meaning of the purge, decides to place his entire family at risk. the daughter who embraces the dying boyfriend that tries to kill her dad. and the wife, Leonidas queen and warrior wife, can not find it in herself to off the people who was trying to kill her and her children.

    Since theyve already decided to make a purge 2, why not make it from the view point of the ones being hunted (the poor) during the purge

    • That’s a great idea! I hope they make it like that! : )

  18. I thought this is a great movie, I just thought it was very predictable. I want a movie that has an exciting plot, where you think it goes on way, but BAM it goes the other, to where it make you say ” I did not see that coming!”. Lately I have not seen something like that. I though this movei would be like that but it wasn’t. I still very much enjoyed it!
    #3.5 #stars

  19. I hate the kids in that movie, wanted to strangle them the whole time

  20. *mild spoiler alert*

    Wish someone would have killed that annoying bleeding-heart pantywaste son. He was the saboteur that set it all into motion…the real villain of the story.


  22. first of all how are they going to have one token black person in the movie the black woman doesn’t count because of her a relationship but it is funny that the neighbors comes to the rescue just to try to kill them in the end and you’re telling me that they didn’t want to get revenge and kill the neighbors that is a joke that’s when the movie went south for me because it was on believable I give it half a star

  23. My god, what a horrible, horrible movie. I was giddy about The Purge ever since the trailer came out, but it was tremendously disappointing. The idea and concept are genius, but the execution fell completely flat. It’s filled with plot and logic holes, barely any story or character development, and the children are just plain dumb. And that terrible acting!! The children were appalling!! And even Ethan and Leda weren’t up to their usual standards, though I will say they didn’t have that much to work with in the first place, their characters are a yawnfest. I don’t get how this movie is getting a sequel, I really don’t, but I sincerely hope it’s better than it’s predecessor.

  24. I would probably “HURT” my cousin for what he did to me!!!!!!!!!