Title: The Purge
Genre(s): Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller
Director(s): James DeMonaco
Release Year: 2013
There was probably a good half an hour before I finally managed to find some enjoyment in The Purge. Written and directed by James DeMonaco, who previously wrote the Assault on Precinct 13 remake and Staten Island (both of which star The Purge‘s Ethan Hawke), this film follows a very simple premise, injects it with a political and social agenda, and then follows every horror trope known to man. The movie is meeting resounding success at the box office right now, perhaps due to the fact that there hasn’t been a big horror release in the last couple of months. Much of the “horror” elements of The Purge end up relying heavily on the premise alone, so when the movie has to reach an acceptable runtime, it makes sense that it turns into an action-thriller. The important thing to take out of the film is that it still manages to present its message in a somewhat reasonable way, despite the many plot holes and poor decisions of characters along the way, and its sudden shift from horror to action.
What will make people go see The Purge is its narrative: a futuristic world where one night a year, all crime is legal. Yes, this includes murder (as the PSA in the film details right before “The Purge” begins), and seemingly nothing else. The movie does give a reason as to why the purge happens, and why murder seems to be the primary choice of crime committed, but it doesn’t give much more. Apparently crime is so low that the government institutes “The Purge” ever year so that citizens can have an outlet for their pent-up aggression. What The Purge doesn’t take into account is that aggression is not the only reason people commit crimes. In fact, one of the reasons crime is persistent would throw a wrench into The Purge’s themes: poverty. The people that are safe during “The Purge” are the 1 per cent – those who can afford top-notch security – and the usual victims during this period of amnesty are everyone else.
When James Sandin’s (Ethan Hawke) community is all outfitted with his security systems, no one feels unsafe when The Purge begins. But when one of the 99 per cent shows up looking for help during “The Purge”, James worries about his family’s safety. Needless to say, eventually he gets into James’s house and becomes a legitimate threat to their lives when a group of people enjoying their right to “purge” show up on their doorstep looking for the man that is in their house. Then what we get is a half an hour or so of every plot hole imaginable and characters making the worst decisions they could possibly make, before the inevitable action begins. James appears to live in a labyrinth of a house, where no sound carries at all, and has raised a daughter (Adelaide Kane) who can’t function sensibly, and a son (Max Burkholder) who will defy his Dad at every turn to get what he wants. Lena Headey’s also in here, doing a better job than most actors in a horror film.
Really though, it’s the daughter that makes this movie hard to watch. As I previously mentioned, it took about a half an hour for me to finally start appreciating this movie some, beyond its premise, and that’s mainly due to James’s daughter, Zoey. Where a horror movie might usually have a series of actions that make no sense logically, The Purge combines them all into this one character. There are long stretches where she will be absent from the movie and then suddenly appear out of nowhere, and then disappear again. That wouldn’t be a problem if there was any logic behind it. In a situation where someone has broken into your home and people are threatening your safety, you don’t take a stroll through your house for any reason. The first time she’s lost kind of makes sense, presuming we assume that she is a teenager who cares more about boys than her family, but the next two or three times are ridiculous. And why characters can’t seem to hear anything that happens which isn’t in the room they’re in is baffling. Maybe the point is that the rich have vast houses, but are they also completely soundproof and also not able to carry the sound of a gunshot through hallways? It’s a horror movie though, so maybe I should stop analyzing it for being sloppily written.
Sloppily written is a good way to describe the film, as nothing feels real in this film, despite the fact that it’s trying to force a message down the audience’s throat every chance it gets. Dialogue is pretty awful, especially the moment “The Purge” is mentioned in casual conversation. Some characters ham it up, and Rhys Wakefield is the real stand out of the film, truly embellishing his role. Even Ethan Hawke feels like he is doing a semi-caricature of a rich, careless person. As I stated, nothing feels real in this world, and it goes against the social commentary which it is trying to make. If you’re going to make us think about the Occupy movements again, you have to give the audience something to latch on to. James’s son, Charlie, is as close to a cipher for our own thoughts and feelings as we get. The Purge handles his character better than the other characters, and it really feels like he is the main character of the film and to whom we are supposed to attach ourselves.
Ultimately what is intriguing is the concept of “The Purge” and whether it would actually do any good in the world, but I think we can all safely say that it would be the dumbest decision made by the government. Not only are there plenty of other reasons as to why crimes are committed, but the idea of “The Purge” raises many other questions which the film doesn’t answer, or not to a satisfying degree. I would have liked to see some of the background, such as the civilization before “The Purge” was instituted and this new government that enacted the policy. But I understand that the film wanted to take a look at a single family and how “The Purge” is not a ‘just’ system. Nonetheless, The Purge is unable to coast on more than merely its premise and some fun action beats.