The Purge has a neat idea and it’s not badly executed. Kind of a cross between Straw Dogs, Assault on Precinct 13 and The Tenth Victim (not a bad bunch of films to be influenced by), it is set in a near future in which all of the anti-social urges of society are channeled into a single night of extreme violence, rather like a hooligan’s equivalent of an office party. It seems to work: crime is down, the economy thriving and people seem to enjoy having the opportunity to beat sh*t out of each other (or avoid it and watch it play out in real time streaming at home). Rich people, that is, who can afford the intensive gun collections and security systems which keep them safe; poor people – who have to put up with the annual occurrence of being hunted down and murdered – are less than happy.
So much for the concept, the plot focuses on a smug dad (Ethan Hawke), his wife (Lena Headey) and their two kids, who have locked themselves in for the night and assume themselves safe… until a bunch of loathsome, privileged brats – bastard offspring of A Clockwork Orange and Funny Games – turn up and attack them for harboring (accidentally) a homeless man who is their chosen victim for the night.
It’s a clever concept and there’s an interesting social edge to it all (is the purge simply a way of culling the working and under classes), which gives it a depth that’s missing from a lot of generic B-Movies. But the siege element isn’t quite so convincing, despite the good cast, and after an effective build up everything happens rather quickly. The villainous youths – clad in sinister masks and distinctive, old fashioned clothing – are well conceived and the minor details (such as the family’s next door neighbour sharpening his machete in anticipation of a good night’s ‘purging’) are more disconcerting than the central narrative of the film. Not perhaps as good as it could have been, but equally not at all bad.