Every so often when one discusses a film they are asked to decide whether it’s ideas are more important than it’s execution. While The Purge is a film filled with philosophical positions that if I were to take one I would be able to try and trace it’s cause and effect in a way that I could possibly write a 2000 word essay on the film as a piece of commentary. However, there’s something about how this film moves from thought to thought that I find worrying.
When it comes to B-horror filmmaking you’re of two minds. There’s the thought of entertainment, which B-horror is famous for, and there’s the thought of being effectively cheap. I’m willing to go out there and say that The Purge wins on all regards. Utilizing the simple ideal of “a world where people legalize crime for 12 hours a year“ James DeMonaco was able to create a family’s story of trying to be supportive, survive or manage to keep their own beliefs to themselves – like a lot of us have to attempt to do when in the face of religious discussions — is astounding. Watching the disparity of belief or at the very least the perception of belief/support between James (Ethan Hawke) and Mary (Lena Heady) and how this particular Purge for the family is one that we can imagine at the end of the evening would change how this family projects their own beliefs going forward.
As it relates to entertainment value the movie does a lot in creating characters that mesmerize you. After the seemingly arduous setup where we’re constantly checking a few specific locations and general character dispositions we begin the evening of purging. Soon enough an injured homeless man is allowed entry in the family’s home because Charlie (Max Burkholder), the son, does what he believes to be right. This then brings on a particularly special party of “purgers” (is that a word?) being lead by a polite stranger (Rhys Wakefield). There’s something brilliant about the stranger and how we’re completely unable to take our eyes off him as he politely explains how his desire to purge outweighs any moral need he would have to choose to purge just the homeless man as opposed to the entire family inside this well secured home. With every moment in the first hour of the film where we see the purgers outside that we are able to watch this polite stranger word his way in threats and general logic of why it’s his right and that this family should be fearful grips us the way that many other great villains – inclusive of Heath Ledger’s The Joker – do.
Where the film falls terribly is how it shifts from the first hour of tension building, with the Sandin family hunting this homeless man down to save their family, to the action filled tower defense film when the purgers enter their home. While I feel that the film could’ve been a lot worse at this point it did feel clunky and unless you’re already so invested that you’re willing to forgive it for it all at this point it’s going to be difficult.
I mentioned religion and all sorts of things earlier. What makes me like this movie so much is that the excess of ideas that exists here is going to leave a lot to ponder. The film brings up the idea of class warfare. While they talk about how implementation of the yearly purge has had this positive effect on overall crime and the economy they at the same time bring up the interpretation that the effect comes from the availability of defensive and offensive materials to the rich that the poor and homeless would not have. We even hear our polite stranger call the eventual murder of the homeless man his right because he’s a useless part of society that shall not be missed. Which changes the discussion from satiating the people’s blood lust and hatred to just committing some form of genocide to a part of society that the “better half” (for lack of a better phrase) deems unworthy to live and dislikes for how it drags them down.
With that sort of discussion occurring you can only imagine the dollars that the economy saves of social work due to the fact that the people are able to just kill anyone who would be in need of social help.
The Purge‘s strict narrative execution may have a hitch here or there – dear God I hated the daughter boyfriend character — but what it lacks in narrative amazingness it makes up for in general idea brilliance. It’s a film I hope many will see and consider thinking about more than it would seem it needs.