Movies from the Black Lagoon: ‘The Purge’

Tom Doty Times Columnist

November 1, 2013

The future is looks grim in this chiller that takes place on the night of the titular event. It’s the new solution to bringing down the crime rate by making all offenses legal from dusk till dawn. Those foolish enough to venture out are out of luck when it comes to emergency services and law enforcement, because they all get the night off.

The film focuses on one family during this occasion, the Sandins. They are a lucky bunch thanks to dad, James, being an amazing salesman whose product, home security systems, is much more necessary thanks to the annual purge. This year, Dad did so well that the family has added an addition to their home.

That said, there are problems. Their teenage daughter, Zoey, is dating an older guy and son, Charlie, spends most of his time in a hideout he has developed in his bedroom closet. Safely ensconced therein, he creepily interacts with the family using a remote-controlled camera (mounted onto a toy jeep alongside a burned-up doll’s head).

The story picks up about an hour before the purge begins. The family gathers for an intimate supper, during which dad has to pull teeth to get his children to talk about what they did that day. He announces that their income is about to grow even more, thanks to business being great. Next comes the annual lowering of the steel shutters and locking themselves in while the less fortunate are hunted by well-armed bands of psychotic and entitled youths.

Things get hairy when Zoey’s boyfriend shows up for a final argument with Dad. Meanwhile, Charlie spots a wounded homeless man on the run from a pack of his neighbors. He decides to let the man into their home while Dad and the boyfriend shoot it out in another room. When Dad realizes a stranger is in the house he freaks out and begins hunting the man down.

Things take another step down when the pistol-packing neighbors show up and demand that their prey be released or they will storm the home. Dad opts to find the guy and give him over, but the resulting struggle forces him to examine his conscience and see the Purge up close and personal. He has always been privileged enough to avoid the night’s rituals, but now he is a part of it and it doesn’t feel anywhere near as good as those paychecks he’s been cashing.

What follows is an intense standoff, as the neighbors morph into enemies and Dad and Mom must protect their family from the residents of their gated community. The rest of the movie is a fight for survival that is gory, action packed and incredibly dramatic, as the family has to respond to a dire threat from people they normally barbecue with, while saving a man they don’t even know.

This is an excellent tale that subtlety says a lot of things about where society might be headed. The best bits are understated but resonate with the viewer. Sharp-eyed viewers will note that the mob’s homeless victim is wearing dog tags.

My favorite was the fact that top government types are safe from the activities (hmm … are these the same guys who continued to get paid while shutting down our government?).

The neighborhood killers appear to be in their early 20s and rock blazers and plastic masks that make them an eerie sight indeed. Their leader is especially scary and comes off as a guy who grew up in front of a PC playing war games and instant chatting but never developed a sense of connection to his fellows.

The scariest stuff here though is that the victims of this day are the same as ever — the poorest amongst us. In a year when many politicians voted against making health care affordable, it is quite frightening to think that the next step in that thinking is to hasten along the demise of those we won’t aid. It is food for thought it makes this grim story almost palpable.

Best line: “Get the letter opener. Press on his wound.”

2013, rated R.