The Purge has an interesting, if a
bit really ridiculous, premise. Set in 2022, on one night a year, America’s New Founding Fathers have granted its citizens 12 hours to ‘purge their sins’. They can enact their most depraved and twisted desires, such as murder (politicians and certain weapons are out of bounds), without feeling the weight of the law on their shoulders; it’s good for the national psyche don’t you know? Police, ambulance and fire services lock their doors, as do the residents of the upper echelons of the American elite; they shut out the horrific events occurring outside, yet watch with glee from their 50″ TVs. The poor become the most vulnerable, as gangs of affluent ‘hunters’ grab their semi-automatics and wage bloody carnage on the most defenceless members of society. It’s 12 hours of dystopia I tell you!
As good as this all sounds for the expectant horror fans among us, The Purge absolutely fails to deliver any tension, resolution or continuity within the story, or a set of sympathetic, intelligent characters. Ethan Hawke, his wife, their slutty daughter and geeky son live in an intentional parody of Middle Class America; their house might as well be on the set of Desperate Housewives or Cougar Town. And in spite of some really great character development at the beginning, when the alarm sounds for Purge hour, this film loses all hope and actually lost the entire audience in my screening.
The Purge has an allegory that suggests the 1% mentality, the closed-gate, rich communities and the gulf between the have-all and the have-none are inexplicably linked with America’s violent future, while mirroring the present. Nevertheless, this is completely rammed in your face, replete with overt, problematic race and class politics (why does the one homeless guy have to be black?) and any allegory eventually becomes secondary to the unadventurous gore and mindless acts of brutality. There is one stand-out scene which was grimace-inducing, but that was the only time the movie garnered any reaction from anyone in my screening.
Movies like The Strangers, Straw Dogs and Funny Games, although they all have their problems, at least make you feel violated as their plots get more intense and depraved, even if the endings are…abrupt. The Purge gets scared of its own premise and becomes an average action film and loses its way; I didn’t feel emotionally invested in the weak horror elements or thrilled by the action. There are huge inconsistencies in plot, character motivations (can everyone just stick together please?) and the direction and message just became a sloppy mess. When the ‘crazy’ group of 1% youth turn up at the family’s house – “We don’t want to hurt our own” they proclaim – they clearly aren’t normal human beings; the main guy, Rhys Wakefield, is a cross between Hannibal Lecter and Frankie Howard. It’s a terrible, clichéd characterisation and one that doesn’t make sense with the entire premise of the movie; the idea is that on one night of the year, the normal citizens of the States can go on killing sprees. It would have been way more effective if these normal people didn’t then turn into faux-possessed weirdos that looked straight out of The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.
As the film hits fifth gear, it becomes even more frustrating. There are two half-arsed twists that are painfully obvious and the ending is just non-existent. Maybe the movie falls victim to its premise, because, in the direction it went, it became impossible to have a decent resolution to the plot, however that is not an excuse. It says a lot about a movie when cinema-goers all huff, puff and tell your movie to fuck off as they leave. I didn’t hear a good word about it from anyone and the screening was packed.
I revel in a decent exploitation action flick – Law Abiding Citizen. And I find a horror movie that delivers twisted, brutal imagery that makes you feel violated quite exhilarating – Martyrs. What I don’t love is a smorgasbord of plot holes; confused, boring second acts; stupid, unsympathetic characters; predictable linearity; and films that don’t have an ending – The Purge.