Film Review – The Purge
The Purge is an ugly, vile, and miserable film that essentially argues that all humans are evil. It hides behind the guise of social satire, but doesn’t have anything insightful to say. Instead, whatever message it has gets bogged down by a ludicrous home invasion story. Writer/director James DeMonaco takes his material and unwisely focuses on the thriller elements instead of the philosophical questions it raises. And even then, the “thriller” elements aren’t all that “thrilling” to begin with. This is a ridiculous plot with idiotic characters that do idiotic things. The levels of stupidity they go through reach frustratingly high peaks. I never walk out of movies, but oh did I have the urge to walk out of this one.
The fundamental issue here is with the premise. In the year 2022, the government enacts a radical law legalizing all crime. For one twelve-hour period every year, people are allowed to commit crimes without any ramifications. As the story begins, we see a number of security cameras capturing random acts of violence—beatings, muggings, shootings, etc. Apparently murder is the action most often taken, as we hear nothing about other types of crime. This law was put in place to “cleanse” people of their built-up anger and hatred. It claims that when society is loose from social constraints, people let their inner rage out. As a result, the country’s crime rate throughout the year dropped to 1%. People are so satisfied shooting their homicidal wads during The Purge that they have no desire to do so the other days of the year.
Here’s the problem: the insulting thing is how the set-up says all people—deep down—are psychotic. I tend to believe that people on the whole are good, and are capable of doing good things. This film believes we are all horrible, and would kill willingly if not for the chance of being prosecuted. Characters eagerly prepare weapons and ammo to go “hunting” during The Purge. Suburban families talk candidly about cleansing themselves of people they hate. Some even dress up in costumes, as if this was some special holiday. Those that do not participate bunker in their homes, equipped with high tech barricades to keep everyone out. Morality is twisted to the point of absurdity. Are we to believe that given the chance, most people would behave as if they were a part of the Manson family? Gimme a break.
Regardless of that issue, we still could have seen a dissection of basic human nature. Unfortunately, that opportunity is wasted as we meet the Sandin family. James (Ethan Hawke) is a successful salesman of home security systems. He’s so successful, he was able to provide his wife Mary (Lena Headey) and kids Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane) the largest home in their neighborhood. Of course, their home is set with a security system as well. Their plan is to stay inside during The Purge and try to keep their minds away from the horrors happening outside. What they didn’t anticipate, however, is how mind-numbingly stupid they all are. All they had to do was sit down and watch TV, and they could have lasted the evening without any problems. But each one of them makes one dumb mistake after another, creating a domino effect. This leads to a stranger breaking into their home and drawing the attention of other bloodthirsty killers.
Honestly, how hard is it to stay in one place and be quiet for an evening? To the Sandin family, that’s actually quite difficult. It’s hard to have sympathy for these characters when their choices beg for them to get killed. When potential intruders (led by Tony Oller) cut the power to their house (what happened to that high-end security system?), James and Mary stumble in the dark, as though they are completely unaware of their surroundings. Their home must be the size of an amusement park, as they lose track of both the stranger that broke in and of their own daughter! Little Charlie desperately needs to be grounded, as he is entirely aloof. He clearly doesn’t understand the dangers of The Purge until it’s too late, and even then we’re not quite sure he learns his lesson.
I could go on and on. I could point out that the nighttime cinematography is murky, the dialogue laughably bad, and the numerous twists and turns come about arbitrarily. But what I found most offensive about The Purge is how it pretends to have some larger meaning. It focuses more on the symptoms instead of addressing the causes. Going on a yearly purge doesn’t rid people of their emotional hang-ups; it gives them the anticipation of doing it all over again. The real question is: Why do they have the need to do these things? What, people can’t take advantage of their feelings in more productive ways? It believes that when people govern themselves, they’ll fall into a world of anarchy. Sorry, I’d like to think we’re better than that.
Final Grade: D-