The year is 2022, and all is well in the United States of America. For reasons unknown, this country is run by the New Founding Fathers of America, who have bestowed a great tradition on its citizens – a yearly purge to cleanse society of its violent tendencies and rid each community of crime. Because of the Purge, society has never run smoother; unemployment is at 1% and crime is virtually nonexistent.

Each March 21st, crime is legal in America for a solid 12 hours. And when they say legal, they mean it – there is no intervention of any kind for any crime, including murder that takes place within those 12 hours, and nobody’s life is off limits except certain ranking government officials. The Purge, written and directed by James DeMonaco, focuses on a single occurrence of this yearly event, seven years after its conception.

For well-off families like the Sandins, the event is nothing to worry about. As audiences will be quick to learn, the Purge doesn’t affect you if you have enough money to bunker down behind a high tech security system and ride the night out. While the New Founding Fathers tout the goodness of the Purge, it is clear that what it does is pit the lower classes, who cannot afford to protect themselves, against one another. No poor people, no economic problems. Society wipes its slate once a year and starts all over.

Now the Sandins live in a gated community with beautiful, big houses and blooming gardens, and row after row of homes that support the Purge. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is especially fruitful this year because he makes a living selling the very security systems that protect the lush homes. His wife, Mary (Lena Headey), is supportive but quietly apprehensive about the night’s meaning. Their two children, smart and unjaded Charlie (Max Burkholder), and teen-prototype Zoey (Adelaide Kane), are along for the ride.

What is supposed to be a quiet night locked inside turns brutal when Charlie sees a desperate, bloodied man running through the streets after lockdown has commenced. After hearing him beg for help, he panics and unarms the security system, letting the man (Edwin Hodge) into the house to hide from his attackers. The severity of the situation deepens when a band of merry masked freaks, hellbent on finding this bloody stranger, shows up at the Sandins’ front door and demands entry.


The majority of the movie focuses on the family’s nightmare of a night, as they attempt to figure out how to get the stranger out of their house, and how to keep the outsiders from breaking in. What ensues is an incredibly violent, gory battle that leaves the Sandins fighting for their lives and questioning their simplest morals. When it comes to the Purge, does anyone deserve to die? And who are they to think that anyone will try to save them?

As James Sandin, Hawke has the chance to play two characters: the know-it-all dad who has everything taken care of, and a near-deranged man who has seen his best-laid plans quickly crumble down around him. He likes to think of himself as a good guy, and he is not the enemy in this film, but there are moments where the audience will visibly cringe at his actions. Though they are driven by a need to protect his family, even his family starts to question his judgement, at about the same time they start questioning the effectiveness of the Purge (they really should!).

Hawke plays this well, as getting to just the right level of dad-annoying for the first part of the movie, and transforming seamlessly into an ass-kicker when the time calls for it. Lena Headey, as Mary Sandin, is truly the performance to watch in this film. You can see her slowly and silently protesting as the Purge begins, by skirting her children’s questions and drinking wine. But as the night drags on, her character comes alive with a ferocity that has just been simmering under the surface all these years as the government, and her husband, dictated her life. It’s amazing.


As the “Polite Leader” of the freaks (actual character name), Rhys Wakefield is a delight. An unnervingly polite WASP-y lad, he is the only member of the bunch to remove his mask and speak to the family directly. He is clearly doing his best “Heath Ledger in The Dark Night” impression, but that level of camp is needed for such an absurd premise. This is, after all, a man who has convinced himself that he and his yacht club buddies are entitled to hunt down a homeless man to execute him, just because.

About that absurd premise: DeMarco and his production team have said that they intentionally had the film take place in the not-so distant future so the notion of the Purge wouldn’t seem entirely farfetched. And they succeed; The Sandins are terribly normal, their neighborhood almost Stepford-like. Aside from a few talking gadgets and that whole “new government regime” thing, the Purge could be happening today.

That’s part of what makes the movie frightening, the thought that these people are attacking the Sandins in their own home. The film does not skimp out on the gore – be prepared for ample, gratuitous violence and bloodshed with every twist and turn. Nobody is safe, and the filmmakers don’t let you forget that fact.

It’s a fun, and truly horrifying romp that will leave you cringing and hiding behind hands throughout its run. The problem is that its makers want you to leave thinking about the socioeconomic implications of the Purge, and what it meant for the Sandin family, their attackers, and the stranger that they let into their house. Audiences will be talking, but it won’t be about The Purge’s fantastic social themes. This is a solid horror flick with fascinating messages. But are any of them going to be remembered when people file out of the theatre talking about Ethan Hawke fighting off a machete?

The Purge premieres June 7th.