When the premise of a film is so intriguing and original, there is an immediate pressure upon the project and its delivery. When it is a good idea that forms the base of a movie, everything piled upon it has to be equally sturdy in order for an audience to accept and enjoy what they are watching. James DeMonaco’s new utopian thriller The Purge plays with different elements of both horror and science fiction cinema and dances somewhere between the two. Set nine years into the future, The Purge displays a peaceful and thriving version of the United States of America, with unemployment and crime both at a staggeringly low percentage. The film addresses America and America alone and explores the night of ‘the annual purge’. For twelve hours, violent crime of any kind is legal; no emergency services and no consequences for your actions. One family’s choice to sustain from the violent activities, are predictably interrupted and soon all control is lost and chaos unfolds in and around this middle class nuclear family.
With recent blockbusters such as The Great Gatsby, Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness all exceeding the two hour running time it was refreshing to sit down to an eighty-five minute movie. The running time was ideal for a movie such as The Purge and re-affirmed my belief that slasher-horror cinema should rarely extend past ninety minutes. The film was artistically executed and well structured despite growing weaker towards the end and leaving several avenues unexplored. The science fiction sections of the film were blatantly stronger than the horror segments and, despite some original scares and jumps, the film committed several typical horror faux pas. Clichéd characters and glaring plot holes deflated the tension in the last half of the film. It felt as though there was a need for a more complex twist; a twist that I found myself trying to mentally design whilst the film came to a lazy close. The sadistic stranger – who becomes the not-so-friendly face knocking at the Sandin family’s door – seemed like a caricatured version of Michael Pitt’s interpretation of Paul, in Haneke’s remake of his own film Funny Games.
The biggest error that this film made was bringing in the themes of cult. Instead, there should have been a more realistic exploration of class division. Wealth and the ability to protect one’s self becomes a key theme that The Purge begins to explore. As the film draws to a close any original examination of this issue is forgotten about and ignored. Instead, the film explores politics within and between the upper classes alone. This makes the film feel somewhat tiresome and leaves you feeling deflated after such a promising introduction. The over-explanation of the importance and function of ‘the purge’ also becomes dull and repetitive. Science fiction cinema that explores an alternate utopia is always at the risk of patronising its audience and, here, The Purge makes this exact mistake. Gattaca, coincidently also featuring Ethan Hawke, perfectly portrays and describes a complex society and should stand as an example to films such as The Purge.
Ethan Hawke gives a great performance here as not only the middle class conscience but as the guinea pig upon which the moral and social dilemmas of ‘purging’ are tested. Other characters felt painfully unnecessary and transparent. Complexity was needed in the characters of the neighbours and the Sandin’s two children. Despite its neat execution and precise length, The Purge left its audience asking the questions that the film should have addressed, as well as trying to answer them. The Wicker Man-esque qualities of the film were not well thought out and dampened the overall realism of this vision of a future in which peace is maintained through an annual release of angst and pain. Despite the potential of The Purge, it was ultimately lacking in a conviction of narrative and was damaged by its unhealthy amount of patriotism. It was certainly entertaining, but less horror and more science fiction next time please.
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One response to “The Purge.”
There’s a few elements in the film which are likely to not have as much subconscious impact on non Americans than on Americans. Having had a few conversations with some friends visiting here something was put on the table of our conversation, the family deciding not to participate in the institutionalised steamvalve of banality of violence as an instrument of social ordening. Their decision to place themselves outside of the structural organisation makes them symbolic of not willing to point their noses the same way as all for benefit of a greater good (if we can really use that last word here). That is what makes them disposable, not victims. Whereas the fine British couple visiting felt as if they were victims, the fellow Americans ultimately admitted to a near instinctive sense of “it’s fine, they called it upon themselves” and even a degree of “that’s what you get”.
From a psychological perspective that may be quite disturbing, from a cultural psychological perspective however there is a certain twisted logic in it that to an outside goes by largely unnoticed.
I agree to the observation that the second half of the movie could have used a certain twist of plot, continuing the conversation with friends here though I also observed that to them this impression of “funny games” was subconscious, instinctive and perfectly fitting in their reception. I half wonder whether the film is not a sort of stab at the internal composition and structuring of parts of Americn society, perhaps even more so at the presentation, the propaganda in use, if you will. Though not that well executed.
I also agree on your observations of cult. But it did strike me as if the film did not really try to use such elements as a means towards painting a picture, it felt more as if it was an attempt at establishing the use of triggers to – perhaps – be received as and give way to being received as a possible cult movie. It felt like commercial consideration rather than artistic. And yes, Gattaca shines.
I don’t think the film considered leaving questions to an audience. All too often these days a film is merely entertainment. Some of us look for questions, ask them when they are not present, most of the time though that’s an exception to modern rules. Most audiences do not leave with questions, they leave with impressions. Panem at circenses.
Thanks for a great review!