‘The Purge’ isn’t scary, but it is scarily smart

Masked psychos try to invade a home in the surprisingly not stupid "The Purge." Credit: Universal Pictures
Masked psychos try to invade a home in the surprisingly not stupid “The Purge.”
Credit: Universal Pictures

‘The Purge’
Director:
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey
Rating: R
4 (out of 5) Globes

The scariest new movie in release now stars Ethan Hawke: he and the woman he met 20 years ago have a nasty couples fight that may or may not end with them splitting up. Most movies aren’t actually scary, and the ones that are, like “Before Midnight,” tend to focus on unpleasant truths most people would rather not acknowledge. They aren’t, in other words, horror movies. To wit, the other new film with Ethan Hawke, “The Purge,” isn’t scary. But it is tense, nerve-wracking and, most shocking of all, a lot smarter than it looks, or indeed ever had to be.

The premise is questionable: It’s 2022, and America is an unspecified number of years into a program wherein every March, for 12 hours, most crime is legal, including murder. This, a Johns Hopkins expert crows on TV, allows people to get rid of their violent urges by briefly giving in to them.

There are a number of holes in this logic, not worth eating up review space. But it’s a good setup for a “Straw Dogs”-like thriller. Hawke plays against type as a cocksure salesman who settles in for the “holiday” by locking up his family behind armor in their fabulous house. When his young, reliably foolish son lets in a homeless veteran on the run from a gang that has already wounded him, his family finds themselves having to decide: give the stranger to a mob of young psycho richies in blazers, or wait until they break in with reinforcements.

Though its characters often aren’t, “The Purge” is weirdly intelligent, both in how seriously and thoughtfully it handles its questionable premise and in how it explores audience bloodlust. Once Hawke and fam (including wife Lena Headey, no stranger to violence as Cersei Lannister on “Game of Thrones”) pick up weapons and go Dustin Hoffman on their intruders, the film reminds us that violent movies are an example of our society’s own form of purging.

In fact, the most thrilling aspect of the film isn’t the threat of invasion. It’s how it constantly seems like it will take a turn for the stupid, then finds a way to be smart. This is a cynical film, which believes that most suburbanites, if allowed, would enjoy taking a life. But it’s otherwise levelheaded. It even strongly suggests that the annual purge, which we’re told has almost eradicated crime and unemployment, may “work” only because the wealthy are killing off the poor and needy. That “The Purge” keeps its head right till the end is scary in itself.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

NBA

Carmelo Anthony agonizing over Knicks future as season…

There’s still the cloud hanging over the franchise’s head as to the pending free-agent status of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.

NFL

Jets host players with eye toward NFL Draft

The Jets hosted a number of NFL Draft hopefuls for workouts on Thursday, with an eye toward some under-the-radar players.

NFL

Chris Johnson: I wanted to go to 'a…

Now that Chris Johnson is a Jet, the team has to figure out if one of the most explosive players in the NFL over the last half decade has anything…

NHL

Rangers' speed versus Flyers' size makes interesting playoff…

Among the myriad aspects that will make this Metropolitan Division semifinal series fascinating will be the battle between the Rangers' speed and the Flyers' size,…

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.