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[Stanley Film Fest ’13 Review] ‘The Purge’ Thrives Off Twisted Conceit

While we weren’t able to attend the first annual Stanley Fest Film Festival, Bloody Disgusting reader Erik Myers was lucky enough to attend what sounded like one of the best horror events of the year.

The fest played host to the world premiere screening of The Purge, Uni’s collaboration with genre buffs Platinum Dunes and Blumhouse.

In theaters June 7 from director James DeMonaco, the pic takes place in an America wracked by crime, where the government has sanctioned an annual 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity—including murder—is legal. Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Tony Oller and Rhys Wakefield all star.

Here’s Myers’ mixed-positive review.

There’s no denying that the United States has forged a unique, often cinematic relationship with violence over the past two centuries. From genocide to school shootings, this country has seen it all. It’s perhaps the biggest theme running through The Purge, a clever and exciting thriller with one hell of an elevator pitch for a plot: What would life in America be like if crime was legalized for one night a year?

Not so bad, it turns out. Especially not for James Sandin, played by Ethan Hawke. We follow him he returns to his home in a well-to-do suburban neighborhood, hours before the big night, which is referred to simply as the “Purge.” He’s made a mint in the high-end security business, turning homesteads into fortresses in advance of the big night. Hawke fills the role well, sounding so self-assured as he explains to his skeptical son Charlie how the “Purge” has more or less saved America from self-destruction. He’d sound smug if he weren’t so fatherly. But shortly after the evening begins, Charlie is unable to ignore the bedraggled stranger out on his street, begging for shelter. He lets him in, not quite anticipating the company who has targeted him.

The Purge ultimately is a home invasion film, but its twisted conceit puts some well-needed tweaks on the genre, some of which are surprising or at least interesting. The pace is great and the action is good, but above all The Purge is unsettling. There’s almost something masterful about the way DeMonaco references modern Americana all over the film, reflecting the ceremony that surrounds beloved events like Halloween or the Super Bowl. There’s also Rhys Wakefield as the film’s memorable antagonist, the polite leader of the band of masked marauders trying to break into the home. Smartly dressed and with plenty of charm, he’s a bit more nuanced and far more creepy than your average Patrick Bateman clone. Moreso than any other actor, Wakefield’s presence makes The Purge click.

Some will be disappointed that the film keeps the focus to the Sandin home, largely leaving the rest of America to our imaginations, but it’s a wise decision. There’s plenty of hints and allusions to chew over, and it’s kind of fun to ruminate on the possibilities of an evening without rules. Just don’t start whipping out the party favors. -Erik Myers




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