The Purge, at surface level, seems to have a really intriguing premise. In the not-so-distant future, the U.S. Government has instituted an annual night called The Purge, in which all crime, including murder, is legal, and so people are free to cause destruction and chaos with no police or emergency service intervention and no future ramifications. This, in theory, acts as a catharsis so that crime is eradicated for the rest of the year. It’s not a terribly realistic idea, but film is inherently fantasy, and if the purpose of the setting is not realism but a form of social commentary or satire, then it can relate back to the real world as a message about our time and society. The Purge’s sinister undercurrent is that it appears to be an elaborate way to kill off the poor, homeless, and generally defenseless, thereby making society prosperous by culling away the so-called “dead weight.” There’s plenty of directions one could go with that idea, directions that highlight the socio-political message and refuse to pander to its audience. And what does the film turn out to be?
Yeah, it’s a panderingly generic slasher flick that neglects to highlight the socio-political message inherent in its premise. I really don’t understand what the point of creating such an elaborate set-up is if the entire film is going to take place in one house with one generic family being assaulted by a series of masked home invaders. Now, granted, the reasoning for these circumstances to fall into place does make sense given the setting. This family’s patriarch has gotten rich from selling security systems in preparation for The Purge, and now the family has locked down their house to ride the night out. The moralistic son sees a homeless man outside begging for help, and sympathetically lets the man in, effectively locking the homeless man in with them. This leads to a group of wealthy self-proclaimed patriots coming by to claim their homeless prize in what is essentially for them a fox hunt.
What doesn’t work about this plot, though, is the execution. None of the characters are fleshed out beyond being the barest of archetypes, especially when it comes to the nameless homeless man who appears to have served in the military, so he’s immediately coded as inherently good and has no other characterization. Nothing the characters do is worthy of any note, with a large section of the film’s runtime devoted to just wandering around a dark, empty house, waiting for boogeymen to pop out. Hell, even the villainous leader of the vigilante ruffians, as cartoonish as his monologues and perpetual smile are, is nothing more than a one-dimensional representation of the film’s underutilized social commentary. Once you strip away the thin veneer of mimed intellectualism, the movie is just another generic family in another generic house being assaulted by another generic team of psychopaths, with poorly-timed jump-scares and lazily improvised home violence to boot.
Like I said, I like the premise of The Purge. There’s interesting directions that can be taken, and when I watch the sequel next week, I hope that some of those directions are taken advantage of. However, if I wanted to watch another generic slasher film, I’d watch just about any horror film of the past fifteen years. The Purge doesn’t do itself justice by stooping to such lazy depths.
In honor of the upcoming Halloween, what spooky scary films are your favorites? Let me know in the comments below.