I’m not a big horror fan. Surprise, I know. My general view of horror movies is that they’re predictable, sloppily written, and rely too much on shock-value gimmicks. That being said, occasionally, I’ll throw my money at a horror movie if it has an interesting concept or looks like it could actually break the stereotypical horror movie mold.
This is why I saw The Purge. When I first saw this trailer, I figured it would, for the most part, be predictable. And it kind of is. But the movie’s concept is interesting enough that I could get over that. The concept, essentially, is that the American government (in 2022) has declared a single day each year where, for 12 hours, anyone can commit crime without punishment.
This is done in order to maintain the economy and eradicate the violence and crime committed around the country. The downside to the Purge, of course, is that there’s no police, firefighters, or emergency medical services coming to the rescue. Now, considering the last few years of the shitty American economy and mass shootings we’ve had to deal with, you can see why this movie appeals to an American audience (and why it beat The Internship at the box office). What’s frightening about it, though, is how the Purge maintains the economy and eradicates crime. But we’ll save that for discussion below in the spoilers section…
Here’s how Universal describes the plot: “On this night plagued by violence and an epidemic of crime, one family wrestles with the decision of who they will become when a stranger comes knocking. When an intruder breaks into James Sandin’s (Ethan Hawke) gated community during the yearly lockdown, he begins a sequence of events that threatens to tear a family apart. Now, it is up to James, his wife, Mary (Lena Headey), and their kids to make it through the night without turning into the monsters from whom they hide.”
Like Panic Room, The Purge follows a wealthy family that can afford protection in their massive home. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) sells the very security system he employs in his own home to other families in his neighborhood—and, in doing so, makes a buttload of money, of which the neighbors are very much aware. The Sandins are your stereotypical rich family. Mary (Lena Headey) is a beautiful housewife, who stays home and cooks dinner in her four-inch heels. Zoey (Adelaide Kane) is a horny, sullen teenager in a “private school” outfit (just for the pervs) with a much older boyfriend, of whom James does not approve. And Charlie (Max Burkholder) is the nerdy son, who spends most of his time improving the mobile spy-cam (and totally creepy) robots that he builds for fun. While all of the actors did a great job showing the audience how their characters changed as a result of a group of psychopaths threatening to kill them just for harboring a homeless man during the Purge, this movie’s greatest disservice to its audience is just that. We only see the Sandin’s version of the Purge.
Let me ask you this. Did you ever consider how amazing Titanic could’ve been if we had followed a lower-class passenger’s story instead of a first-class passenger’s story? Would it have been more tragic? Of course, because poor people usually lose everything or just straight-up die in movies, unless they become rich (See: Aladdin). But it would’ve been a much deeper story about class inequality if we, a financially-struggling majority, had seen it from the perspective of someone also struggling. With The Purge, we didn’t see this horrific event from the perspective of someone who was truly in danger (you know, someone who couldn’t afford a nice house with a badass security system), nor did we see the Purge’s impact on a larger scale across the country.
Now, I know the story required focus, which is why we were stuck with the Sandins. And we did at least get a glimpse of the violence in other settings through the opening credits (which masterfully showed us the violence and destruction paired with Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”). But you can’t deny that this movie would’ve been way more interesting if our main characters were stuck in a lower-class ghetto, retirement community, or 24-hour Walmart during the Purge, especially when considering how the Purge revamps the economy and eliminates crime.
But first, let me say the political and social commentary in The Purge is blunt. Everything is said and shown without a hint of subtlety. While I personally think it makes the movie less thought-provoking since it hands the audience its “moral of the story” on a silver platter, I understand why the writers did it. You have to remember who their main audience is. Horror movie fans. These are the same people who see Paranormal Activity 18 (I know that one’s not real…yet) ten times in the theater. The same who choose a movie solely on its ability to make them scream. Also, the same who can’t pinpoint a villain to save their lives, though the answer is practically given to them within the first 15 minutes of every horror film. Bluntness is required when your audience is about as thick as an elephant’s vagina (Yes, I meant that offensively). Nevertheless, this smack-you-in-the-face-with-our-point style of writing doesn’t necessarily mean the political and social commentary didn’t make its point.
In fact, that point is rather saddening. You see, the Purge helps the economy and rids the country of crime because it targets the people who are not only unable to defend themselves but who are statistically more likely to commit crimes to survive as well. The poor, the homeless, the crippled, the weak, the hungry, the debt-addled—basically, anybody who needs support from the government. By killing them, that suddenly helps the economy. And who kills them? The wealthy. What’s especially upsetting about the Purge is that, clearly, it doesn’t actually rid the country of crime. All it does is concentrate it and allow people who probably wouldn’t have ever committed minor crimes to commit major crimes, thereby making the crime rate rise even more. So that’s pretty f***ed up.
And the point about the rich vs. poor only gets driven home further when the Sandin’s son, Charlie, lets a homeless man (who is black and wears dirty clothes and military tags because, again, the writers are being blunt) into their home, and a group of young, wealthy purgers come to collect him. Did I mention those young purgers are wearing private school blazers? The young purgers also refer to the homeless man as the “homeless swine” and “homeless pig,” letting us know that they intend to slaughter him for “the good of the country.”
Although the Sandins originally intend to give up the homeless man to these creeps, they eventually realize that what’s happening is horrible, and they decide to stand against the purgers who break into their home. Lots of violence ensues, James is fatally wounded, and it seems Mary and the kids are trapped until they’re rescued by their neighbors. But just kidding! Remember that comment I made earlier about the neighbors? Yeah, that comes back to bite them in the ass. Because even though the neighbors are just as wealthy, they’re still annoyed that the Sandins have more money than them. I just want it to be known that I saw this twist coming. I mean, when a neighbor named Grace brings a plate of cookies to congratulate Mary on her new home addition, you know that bitch is furious and will probably try to kill her. “Well, does she?” you ask. I guess that depends on whether or not there’s a homeless black guy still lingering in the house who could save the Sandins.
Now, while this movie did one thing really well, which was slowly building up the tension of the story until the movie’s end (I was on the edge of my seat), it also had some issues. You know, like having an interesting concept that kind of overshadows the movie, itself (Where have I seen this problem before? Oh, right. Looper). I don’t know about you, but when I was watching The Purge, I was also wondering about its history and inner-workings. It just opens a floodgate of questions. For example, we know the Purge lasts 12 hours. We’re given this information when the Sandin family’s home goes into lockdown, during which an emergency broadcast plays, explaining what’s happening. Now, here’s my question—how exactly does the government control the time frame of the Purge? I mean, sure, they play sirens to alert its beginning and its ending, but how do you force people to stop committing crimes when it’s over? Think about it. If there was a person about to murder another person when the sirens went off, you’re telling me that they’d just stop and be like, “Oh, well. I’ll kill you next year!” Yeah, bullshit.
Overall, The Purge is a good yet predictable thriller, able to keep the audience on the edge of their seats for the entire movie. As long as you don’t question the “why” and focus more on the “what’s happening right now,” it’s easy to overlook the unclear background of America’s annual Purge (because, apparently, it was easier to leave explanations out than expand the 85-minute run-time to 120 minutes). The acting from both the family and the creepy bastards attempting to kill them is believable, and the writers were able to fit a 12-hour timeline into the movie without pandering to 85 minutes of scare-tactics. Needless to say, the most interesting part of The Purge is its matter-of-fact political and social commentary about government, kickstarting the economy, and eliminating crime—all, of course, done through killing. But I guess you’ll just have to judge that for yourself.