The Purge: The Horror Flick that Should Not Have Been

The greatest horror in this otherwise great premise is that they turned it into horror...

Oh boy. Where do I even begin? When I saw the ad for this film a few months ago, I was initially intrigued. A horror film with a unique premise? One that also has an original message about society? I’m sold. However, as the release date got closer and I began to do a little more research into The Purge, that unique premise seemed somehow…off. I tried to keep an open mind as I went to see it in the theater, but I felt like it was getting purged right from the kickoff. So, I went ahead and put out my blue lilacs, ignored my moral compass and prepared to get my murder on. The picture’s entire conceit revolves around a family attempting to survive a “holiday” known as The Purge. It really must be a special time of year, because it’s now seriously acceptable to say the phrase “release the beast” during this momentous season. Taking place in 2022 (shit really falls apart in the next 9 years), the United States has become an almost utopia of sorts. Incredibly low crime rates and a great economy can all be credited to the New Founders of America. Part of the new regime’s wacky plan includes The Purge: a holiday where all crime is permitted for twelve hours. There are some caveats to this vacation from lawfulness. There are certain government officials you cannot kill (Class 10, whatever that means) and certain weapons you cannot use (no nukes?). The film doesn’t really go into any of this though, which is a shame as it would have been more interesting.  But no. We’re stuck with the Sandin family for the night of the Purge. The household patriarch is a security salesman who has apparently made quite the living from rich people trying to protect themselves during these festive times. He is, in fact, the number one salesman of security systems. Yay? Apparently, his neighbors are a little jealous of the new additions on the family house. They feel that he took their money and rubbed it in their faces. This seems a little petty, considering he’s the man responsible for keeping their posh asses alive, but I digress. The Sandin family locks themselves down for the Purge. Of course, they do not realize that that their teenage daughter’s creepy older boyfriend has crept into the house before lockdown. He explains to Zoey that he wants to have a nice man-to-man talk with her father to convince him that their drastic age difference is A-ok. While all of this is going on, the Sandins’ youngest child, Charlie, sees an injured man running down the street screaming for help. Thus, he decides to take the house off lockdown to let the bleeding stranger in. Why? Because Charlie is a stupid and reckless asshole. Throughout the film, you’ll find yourself praying that they just toss him out as a sacrifice. In fact, I think if the film audience had a right to purge anyone in the film, we’d have all have ganged up on Charlie. Anyway, while Mr. Sandin is attempting to deal with their new guest, Zoey’s boyfriend shows up for that little chat. And by little chat we mean the guy opens fire. Because if there is any certain way of winning a woman’s heart, it is by killing her innocent father. Sounds like some Game of Thrones logic. Fortunately, the dumbass cannot hit the broadside of a hawk and with massive gunfire everywhere, he ends up shot and bleeds to death in her room. Oh, and now their new stranger friend is somewhere in the house. Turns out, the family’s new best friend wasn’t just taking a bloody jaunt during the Purge. He was running from a group of rich prep school assholes who are intent on killing this very specific homeless man. But let’s focus for a second on their outfits. Why is it that all the young men are in prep school uniforms while the women are wearing dresses that resemble something out of The Wicker Man? I guess this is to add an eerie effect, but these are rich kids, not occultists from a Rob Zombie movie. Anyway, they decide to give the family an ultimatum. Give up the man or they’re going to come in and kill everyone. Very odd for a group of people that seem intent on murdering one specific man. Needless to say the kids get in, it turns into Battle Royale and Papa Sandin dies at the hands of jealous neighbors because…this movie has a message.  So how was it? In the case of The Purge, the very thing that makes the film unique is also its downfall: the premise. If it was set in a far distant future or another culture, we may be able to suspend our disbelief. But this film takes place nine years in the future of the United States. I felt myself being very unforgiving in accepting this farce as a reality. Obviously, one of the things the film sets out to examine is the origin of criminal behavior. The film asserts the notion that humans are, by our very nature, violent. And that repealing all laws for 12 hours, people can blow off some steam by blowing off people’s heads. What a strange and pessimistic view of humanity. The only thing that keeps people from killing one another is the law. Except, wait. People kill one another now. And we have plenty of laws against it. Humans do not work this way. People often kill one another in crimes of passion. These are the very people that wouldn’t wait an entire year to kill someone. Hence, it being a crime of PASSION. I know what you’re thinking. What about that special breed of evil person who calculates their murderous rage into truly awful acts? I doubt very much that those people care about getting caught or about the law; ergo, they are another major group of murderers that wouldn’t wait until the Purge. Which leaves us with everyday people. I did an informal poll of people I knew asking them what they would do if all laws were repealed for 12 hours. The standard answers I got included: doing drugs in public, selling drugs in public, picking up a prostitute, engaging in prostitution, public urination, drunk driving, stealing, etc. Not one person I spoke to had any inclination to murder someone. And why is that? Most people feel that murder is wrong. In fact, the murder rate in the United States is the lowest that its been in more than a century. Probably because most people just do not have the desire to kill anyone. I think that the concept is intriguing, but the problem is that they wanted to make a horror film. So, what could have been a very unique science fiction or dystopia film ends up being an excuse for a bloodbath. The characters are not sympathetic at all. Both children end up putting their family’s lives in jeopardy and by the end, the audience wants them dead. I also have this sneaking suspicion that this film was attempting to make a statement about race and poverty. The homeless man is an African-American male who ends up in this household full of white people attempting to kill him while being chased by other white people. Trying to kill him. But the film never really has the courage to go there. Likewise, it shrinks from the issue of class warfare. We see on the news that there are arguments against the Purge. Critics accuse the process of being a way to eliminate the poor, people with disabilities and the elderly. All people who either do not have the means or the ability to defend themselves. Again, it never really goes there. There is no great speech by one of the children talking about the unfairness of the violence. The actors aren’t great. Ethan Hawke seems to be doing his very best, but with this plot we almost cannot blame him. No one else in the film is very likable. And on the flip end, the bad guys really do not end up being very scary. Creepy, maybe. But are we ever truly scared? No. So to answer the question, it wasn’t good. The film seems determined to have deep messages but does not have the courage to make those messages clear. The premise is science fiction in nature but, again, the film does not really have the courage to believe it. It is difficult to suspend disbelief when a film is attempting to be so realistic. It was not entirely unwatchable. There were some excellent kills and some moments that made me laugh. But it could have been so much better. Instead of being a great contemplation on the role of law in society and human behavior, we had dumb kids getting their parents killed again. That is something we all wish we could purge from the screen. 


2 out of 5