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The Purge

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Oct 8, 2013
The Purge

You might take this movie to be a parody of the Tea Party's message of self-reliance and governmental non-interference. If so, you'd also need to understand the underlying contempt for the so-called "prosperity gospel" that directly equates material well-being with moral purity (and God's favor).

Then again, you might just assume that the James DeMonaco film "The Purge" is a feature-length version of that old "Star Trek" episode in which Kirk and pals show up at an alien planet just in time for the annual "Red Hour," a local custom involving a night-long frenzy of lawless abandon.

Either way, "The Purge" presents us with a vision of a "reborn" America in which the "New Founding Fathers" have solved problems like unemployment and poverty (and, one supposes, Congressional gridlock) by declaring one night each year to be a "purge" night when citizens are allowed -- nay, encouraged -- to settle scores, run rampant, rape, burn, pillage, and kill. On this one night of total anarchy there is no such thing as rescue: No police, no emergency services. You're on your own, and because there is no law, there are no crimes... only acts of violence that carry no penalty. (Listen closely, and you'll pick up on the annual date for this Dionysian revelry on steroids: The evening of March 21, the vernal equinox. It's springtime in America, folks!)

In theory, the purge rids the American soul (collective as well as individual) of hatred and rage; in practice, what it does is cull the population, especially the poor and racial minorities. They, the movie suggests, are the primary prey, not only of their own ilk, but also of well-heeled sociopaths who hunt in packs and carry superior weapons.

Not everyone takes to the streets on purge night. Many, especially the rich (who can afford to modify their homes so that they are fortresses of steel shutters and computerized surveillance systems) simple hunker down and wait it out. Such is the plan for Jim (Ethan Hawke) and his family... until his daughter's boyfriend, frustrated at Jim's refusal to allow the two to date, attempts to kill him. Then, there's the matter of Jim's son taking pity on a homeless army vet being chased by a gaggle of goons, a cohort of cold-blooded prep-schoolers with vicious grins and a killer sense of entitlement. With dangers lurking within his home and circling without, Jim -- the paterfamilias and, therefore, the center and moral light of his family -- has to make choices about his values and his essential humanity.

This home release includes both a Blu-ray disc and a standard DVD. Both discs contain one bonus feature (not counting trailers for other movies): A making-of featurette in which we hear about the film's genesis (a moment of road rage, and not a late night viewing of "Star Trek" after all) and learn how the filmmakers toyed with the idea of making "The Purge" straight-up satire, but then decided to play it straight. The featurette is far more disturbing than the movie itself, which sticks all too closely to the dance-steps of its particular thriller-chiller tune. (To be fair, the film does offer a handful of nasty twists, even though overall it's pretty predictable.)

You can file this under your oddball Halloween / horror / thriller releases, or you can lump it with Ethan Hawke's other strange film choices ("Daybreakers," maybe), or you could give it a pass. Just as there will be another purge next year for the survivors of this story, it won't be long before there's another so-so movie riffing on the horrors of our civilization in decline.

"The Purge"
Blu-ray and DVD Combo Pack

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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