Jun 11 2013
I often try to avoid being political on this site, because I find it tends to rub people the wrong way. We talk about movies, TV and video games here and if you start injecting your own political leanings into your posts, even a little bit, it can turn off your audience in a hurry who didn’t tune in for that sort of thing.
The same can be said for horror movies as well.
You may not have guessed it from the trailer alone, but The Purge is less a thrilling home invasion feature, and more one of the best blatant political allegories I’ve probably ever witnessed onscreen. See if you can grasp the point it’s trying to make after a brief description.
Unemployment is near zero, and so is violent crime and poverty. The reason is not economic policy or technological innovation, but rather it’s the creation of the Purge. It’s one twelve hour block a year where the US government has decreed that any and every crime is not only legal, but encouraged. Theft, murder, rape, it’s just an all-you-can-eat buffet of depravity, and the “New Founding Fathers” of the country have deemed it vital to our nation’s prosperity.
“See any dirty poor people out there?”
There are two explanations explicitly stated in the film as to why the Purge is beneficial. The first is that it allows for a primal release of all the year’s pent up anger and frustration. If you say, murder your boss or beat a random pedestrian to death, you’re less likely to snap during the rest of the year and commit an equal or worse crime. The second theory is a bit more utilitarian. Because the rich of the county can afford to hide in massive homes with expensive security systems and own top of the line weaponry, they’re safe from the mayhem of the Purge. The poor? Well, they’re hunted down in the streets like dogs with nowhere to run, and society simply works better with the trash of humanity taken out.
As you may have guessed, the film aims to be a searing indictment of the Tea Party movement, which is accused of protecting the rights and wealth of the rich while giving the poor the shaft, telling them to simply pick themselves up by their bootstraps and get their shit together sans the slightest bit of assistance. The Purge is this philosophy taken to complete and utter absurdity, and even as someone who isn’t terribly fond of the Tea Party or their proposed policies, I was rolling my eyes so hard I almost pulled a muscle.
The Sandins are part of the “haves.” James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) has made a fortune selling security systems to his wealthy neighbors who wish to survive the annual Purge. His wife Mary (Lena Headey), his rebellious daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and his odd son Charlie (Max Burkholder) have all benefitted from his endeavors, and currently live in a mansion with a purportedly top of the line security system that has never failed them to date.
But that changes during the Purge of 2022. Charlie, sweet little boy he is, lifts the security gate momentarily to let a wounded man inside their home who claims he’s fleeing attackers. Soon, the attackers show up wielding shotguns and machetes and wearing creepy masks. The pursuers are revealed to be young white yuppies led by a man only identified as “Polite Stranger” in the credits (Rhys Wakefield, with the film’s only interesting performance). The miniature Patrick Bateman demands that the Sandins turn over the “wretched swine” they’re sheltering in their home, a man who is of course, black and homeless. “His kind only serves to feed the Purge,” the Polite Stranger says as the audience tries to stifle laughter.
“Also, vote Romney!”
It’s hard to know just how much to tear into how ridiculous a concept the Purge is. The idea that allowing anyone and everyone to go on a killing spree one night a year is psychologically beneficial for society is so batty it makes my head spin. The other explanation, that unemployment is down and crime is non-existent because the jobless and destitute are simply murdered, is equally insane, and in this case, is this movie actually saying that such a practice…would work? That just seems a touch out of line with the film’s supposed message. Shouldn’t they be saying that no, systematically murdering the poor does NOT drive unemployment and crime down?
If you can get past the film’s constant, pervasive social commentary, is there at least a good thriller contained within?
Hardly. Outside of perhaps one pretty decent fight sequence between James and some masked intruders, the rest of the film is a never ending parade of bad decisions. It’s unclear why a so-called security expert would have a back-up generator that powers exactly one room only when the power is cut. Then they’re thrown into darkness, and the second half of the film becomes a bunch of people traipsing around with flashlights through dark hallways. Again, James the security genius never manages to tell his family that they should STAY TOGETHER when all of them are creeping around with flashlights and guns in their pitch black house, and I’m almost sad they didn’t shoot each other by accident just to teach them a lesson about making better choices. It’s one of the few times in recent memory I’ve actually been tempted to shout at a movie screen because of the idiocy of those onscreen.
Eventually, surprise, the lesson is learned that the Tea Party Purge is probably not the best idea, as the rich start to cannibalize each other out of boredom or jealousy. Watching these characters struggle with the morality of the Purge is just laughable. “Hmm, is it really the right thing to do to senselessly execute innocent people for no reason? I need to do some real soul searching about this one…”
And yes, a steel front door and windows are nice, but how about your, I don’t know, completely wooden roof?
The core concept of the Purge is that we in society simply don’t run around killing each other because of the threat of punishment, not any inborn sense of morality or decency. Not only that, but the logical implications behind such an event will bug you all throughout the film unless you simply say “to hell with it” and just view the thing like it’s a Twilight Zone episode.
But in the end The Purge is just a mediocre thriller with people stumbling around in the dark, and a far less sophisticated piece of political commentary than it wants to be. When you literally have a white Young Republican in an embroidered blazer professing his love for the butchery of “homeless swine,” you’ve gone just a wee bit too far. It’s like if George Orwell simply had the barnyard critters of Animal Farm saying things like “Wow, Stalin is pretty f***ing terrible huh?”
There’s just no subtlety here. Not even a little bit. I don’t begrudge a horror movie for trying to be something more than a simple slasher, but this is a textbook example of how not to get your point across. You’ve done something wrong when you alienate the people who are even supposed to agree with you in the first place.
1.5 out of 5 stars
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