In the far distant future (like a whole nine years from now) America’s New Founding Fathers –white ultraconservatives who still believe in that nasty Christian God and like guns and hate unemployed people of color- have solved the nation’s problems with unemployment and crime by implementing the brilliant idea of a once a year purge night, where for twelve hours anything goes. You can rape kids, burn down houses, murder homeless people, or anybody for that matter, marry your gay lover, stomp on hamsters and stand in your front yard and smoke weed and it is all totally legal from seven at night to seven the next morning. Almost anything goes but political leaders with certain status are protected from acts of violence, no doubt the God-fearing, gun-totting Founding Fathers themselves. There are restrictions on what types of weapons can be used and it is not made clear, but I would assume they mean no atomic bombs or anthrax. I am really not a fan of political message movies and in particular when they are also horror films. I just don’t like them for the most part as they tend to sing to the choir , either the choir on the right or the one on the left and, like The Purge, beat their messages into your head with a ball-ping hammer. And that is where this film falls apart for me almost from the very beginning. More time and energy is spent trying to drive home DeMonaco’s anti-gun and anti-conservative values messages than is spent trying to make the actual invasion itself believable and exciting. So anyway, who the hell is getting invaded and by whom and why?
Yes, the Sandins have done well for themselves, so well that the neighbors are envious and bitter about their success at having the largest “castle” in their little neighborhood of millionaires. The snide inferences about this mass jealousy of course needlessly telegraph the film’s plot in the second act and general ending. As Purge Night (I do not know if that is what it is called in the movie or not) begins things waste no time in going bad for the Sandins. First Zoey’s boyfriend shows up inside the house of the security genius after “lockdown” and wants to settle –as in “just talk”- to James about his relationship with his daughter. Well we’ll say this character ends up written out of the script pretty fast and I think it was a total waste of a character that could have been used later on. On top of that, at almost the same moment, Charlie sees a black man –yes, there is suddenly a poor, urban black man in the middle of this elite white community in a suburb of LA that no doubt requires a long commute in an SUV to get to from the city- who is bloodied and screaming for help. Charlie unlocks the house’s security system long enough to let him in and accelerate the plot. As James and Zoey's beau exchange a few words and many bullets the black fellow escapes into the recesses of the Sandin’s fortress like house.
And here is where things just get too hard to accept at times, even for me who employs beaucoup suspension of disbelief per film. 1) That the house would be that easy to break into just using chains and jeeps to remove the doors renders the whole security angle pointless. Wouldn’t this have been something Sandin’s company would have considered at some point? 2) That the gang of thugs would really waste all their time on Purge Night trying to get this one homeless guy when they could have let it go and killed off twenty or thirty more homeless people instead makes no sense. 3) That Sandin would not have planned better with contingencies like a panic room for example is too big a hole in his character's professional perfectionism. 4) That his neighbors of years would be so envious of his success that they would want to torture and kill him and his family in cold blood is stretching the whole "we are all potential killers" concept too far. 5) And that the Sandin’s would be able to fend off all the machine gun packing attackers in their house as everyone just ambles around the darkened hallways is unbelievable. What the director does is sort of his version of those kung fu movie fight scenes, where a guy fights 40 other kung fu masters, but only one or two at time while the rest hop around waiting their turns. Other wise they would kill the son of a bitch in a minute. Same gimmick here really. Often gunfire and screaming erupts in one room while James fights off the attackers. It never seems to occur to the other invaders in the house to run to that room and see what is up, rather they decide to ignore the commotion and continue walking around in the hallways, “looking” for somebody to kill. Hey, maybe there is somebody to kill where all the gunfire is coming from and from where your partners are screaming in pain. Just a hunch.
And by now the whole so called political message of the film –far less effective than the satire in films like Starship Trooper- is lost as the film gets mired down in one horror/thriller cliché after another. Suddenly there hardly even seems a need for the whole Purge Night theme. The band of invaders cold have easily just been like the scarier thrill killers in The Strangers. And I have to comment quickly on one gimmick that took place at least four times that I can recall right now. It is the set up where a killer is about to kill somebody, and just as they cock the gun or whatever you do with guns they suddenly explode somewhere on their body as a good "guy" shoots them from behind or from the side or somewhere off camera. I mean this happened to the point that I got numb to it. 1) James saves Charlie just as Charlie is about to get shot, 2) Neighbors save Mary just as she about to get shot, 3) Zoey saves the family just as they are about to get shot and 4), the homeless black guy saves the whole family again just as… well, you get it. It seems like the only way DeMonaco can resolve these situations.I also did not like the slow motion scenes of the masked girls, all in a homicidal state of mind of course, in white dresses skipping down the halls like they were 10 years old. Really corny and contrived and again lifted from The Strangers.
In the end the movie is too packed with blunt and ridiculous messages about class division and the evils of conservatives to really take seriously. The film never explores the possibilities of what might be happening elsewhere in LA at the same time, like the Compton area where maybe every night is Purge Night. The fallacious message seems to be that if you allow well educated, well off hard working white folks the chance to kill other human beings with impunity they will jump on the chance. Another message is that when you have a neighborhood full of white folks killing each other off the only decent person will be the homeless black guy (and the geeky pre-teen white boy with the robot of course). The violence seems a little tame for an R rated film really and at times I did not like the jolting film score. Actually worth a watch even though I give it a round scolding but more worth it for the violence and horror clichés than any sort of lame social message it may be trying to impart. Another message movie that makes a statement about the senseless violence in America using senseless violence.