Maybe it’s implausible. Ten years from now, America is a veritable paradise—unemployment is at 1 percent, crime is virtually nonexistent—thanks to the Purge, an annual 12-hour free-for-all during which all crime, including murder, is legal.
It doesn’t seem to quite hold up against human nature. Would a few hours every year be enough to satisfy the urges of the most violent among us? Wouldn’t crimes of passion still be a problem? How could this possibly work in the real world?
Here’s the thing: It’s entirely possible that it doesn’t work even in the world of The Purge. For we experience everything here—Purge Night 2022—through the eyes and ears of the Sandin family, who live sheltered in a gated neighborhood. The news flows into their tastefully decorated McMansion via TV, broadcasting material that appears to be almost wholly under the purview of the “New Founding Fathers.” Paradise America is under a fundamentalist Christian dictatorship, and if we can’t believe what we see on TV now, how likely is it that TV is telling the truth in this twisted 2022 USA?
Here’s another thing: Plausible or not, writer-director James DeMonaco has found a prism through which to do something extraordinary. As the Sandins—dad Ethan Hawke, mom Lena Headey, teen daughter Adelaide Kane and preteen son Max Burkholder—find themselves under attack from outside on Purge night, this becomes a startling satire on America’s culture of violence, extrapolating to an extreme current notions about “security” and “self-defense.” It also asks us to see cinematic horror in a new way, as we must reconsider our own visceral reactions to what is happening onscreen through the film’s demented morality. Does legality alter the rightness or wrongness of those violent acts, and does it change how we feel about what we’re seeing? This is what a horror movie should do: Make us question human nature, including our own.
Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey