‘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
International

Sierra Leone Ebola patient, recovered from family, dies…

An Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer has died.

Local

VIDEO: Cop reassigned as NYPD investigates alleged head…

An officer alleged to have stomped on a Brooklyn man's head last week had his gun taken away and placed on modified duty.

National

New York Times calls for legalization of pot

The New York Times editorial board on Saturday endorsed a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, becoming the largest paper in the nation to back the idea.

National

Two injured after cable snaps on Ohio amusement…

(Reuters) - A cable on a large swing ride at an Ohio amusement park snapped and struck two riders as the swing was in motion,…

Music

Newport Folk Festival: Photo gallery of 35 moments…

As has been the tradition since Bob Dylan plugged in a bajillion years ago, the Newport Folk Festival embraces more musical genres than its name implies.

Music

MKTO: Behind the bromance

MKTO's Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller talk about the American Dream tour, Demi Lovato and getting turned down by girls.

Arts

James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne head to…

Two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones returns to the New York stage next month as an eccentric grandfather in a revival of the 1930s comedy…

Movies

Box office: Scarlett Johansson wins battle of brains…

Scarlett Johansson's "Lucy" handily dispatched with Dwayne Johnson's "Hercules" over the weekend.

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Auto racing

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Wellbeing

This Week In Health: Friends share similar DNA,…

Friends share similar DNA, study finds Location: U.S. Study subjects: Nearly 2,000 people Results: When it comes to our social networks, it seems that birds of…

Education

Are liberal arts colleges turning away from the…

Bryn Mawr College, a small women's college located just outside of Philadelphia, announced last week that it would be making standardized tests like the SAT…

Education

Recent grads discover school superintendent plagiarized parts of…

  Two recent high school graduates made a surprising discovery about the commencement speech their school superintendent delivered at their graduation: portions of it was copied…

Career

Feeling stuck? Get out of the entry-level job…

Television and movies may be littered with 20-something characters who seem directionless when it comes to their careers, but author Mary Traina says she finds…