2 June 2013

Review: The Purge

(Dir: James DeMonaco, 2013) 

The Purge is a film full of interesting ideas even if it has a number of issues in execution. The premise itself is fascinating; in the near future in a vastly "improved" American society and economy, citizens are allowed an annual twelve hour period in which they can purge themselves of the anger and frustration that's been building up over the past twelve months in any way they please. There are no laws and no emergency services. Everything illegal is permitted. An intriguing idea but something with a lot more depth than at first glance.

The first thought is what does it take for society to get to the point where murder and other crime is briefly legal and almost encouraged by the government. No actual details are given about the "new founding fathers" and what actually took place to start this, it kind of doesn't matter to the immediate story in the film, but how do you get a country to 1% unemployment and where does this acceptable attitude to violence come from? Humanity itself is of course extremely violent by nature but this also suggests there is something more ingrained within this culture. I was reminded of The Running Man, where society regressed to watching humans killed for entertainment like in Roman times. This is just an extension of that.

On the next level down it becomes an issue of class warfare. The rich and privileged feel it's their duty during this short window to hunt down and kill the poor who aren't contributing to society. It's likely a deep seated feeling in culture that here is given its "acceptable" outlet. It doesn't matter who these people are, even if they are struggling military veterans for example, it's simply that they're perceived to be doing nothing to justify their right to exist. But this also goes the other way, as an opportunity for those who are doing even better than you to be punished for daring to be more successful. The irony being that for a society built on capitalism and embracing personal success, some highly achieving people still can't deal with others doing just that bit better and will take the opportunity to exercise pain on them.

With all these intriguing ideas on hand it's disappointing that The Purge doesn't totally deliver, resulting in something of a bog standard home invasion thriller. Not that this is bad as it is entertaining, but the story of the Sandin family (Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder & Adelaide Kane) trying to defend their large locked down home on this fateful night, and put into a position of deep ethical dilemma, feels wanting for more. The characters are all likeable enough but after a fairly slow start it ends up a pretty standard action thriller about fighting for survival, with enough scenes of slightly creepy darkened corridors and the tease of masked maniacs on a killing spree hidden around the corner. These masks are faintly unnerving, but most notable is the face of our chief antagonist (Rhys Wakefield), who unmasked has the most sinisterly polite smile. This works but without being scary, which is maybe something that would've helped. 

The Purge has the potential to be so much better than it actually is. As a generic home invasion film it's entertaining enough without breaking new ground, but the core concept and ideas layered within are really fascinating, offering much to think about. They just deserve more from the film they're in. Nonetheless there's a lot more that could be done with this concept in future films by focusing on other people / participants, and that's something I'd like to see. 

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