On Saturday I wrote a piece about ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, and it was clear from the number of comments, re-tweets etc. I received that it’s a film a lot of people have a lot of love for. The movie I want to talk about today, however, is, in my opinion, far less satisfying.
James DeMonaco’s 2013 movie THE PURGE starts with a broadly similar premise to EFNY, in that in order to try and cope with a crime rate that’s spiralled out of control, the US government is forced to try a radical new approach. This is the titular Purge – a brief period of time once each year when all criminal activity is legalised. Read the synopsis, watch the trailer, then follow the link for my brief thoughts.
In an America wracked by crime and overcrowded prisons, the government has sanctioned an annual 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity-including murder-becomes legal. The police can’t be called. Hospitals suspend help. It’s one night when the citizenry regulates itself without thought of punishment. On this night plagued by violence and an epidemic of crime, one family wrestles with the decision of who they will become when a stranger comes knocking. When an intruder breaks into James Sandin’s (Ethan Hawke) gated community during the yearly lockdown, he begins a sequence of events that threatens to tear a family apart. Now, it is up to James, his wife, Mary (Lena Headey), and their kids to make it through the night without turning into the monsters from whom they hide.
I’ll say from the outset, I’m definitely not a fan of The Purge. I’d had the film recommended by various folks and as far-fetched as it is, I was initially intrigued by the concept (seriously, though, the longer you think about it, the more ridiculous it becomes). But what sealed it for me is that the makers of The Purge took this concept and did very little with it. What could have been a genuinely interesting and original look at a dystopian future hiding behind a utopian veneer, becomes just another home invasion movie.
The characters are thin and predictable, the villains even more so. The attempt at social commentary, though laudable, is ham-fisted. Director DeMonaco has apparently spoken of the debt he owes to JOHN CARPENTER’S ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and SAM PEKINPAH’S Straw Dogs, and though the DNA of both movies is clearly on show here, The Purge has nothing of the impact of either of those films.
I found similarities with themes I touched on in HATER here too (something I’ll talk more about in the near future – see my footnote at the end of this piece), as lines are constantly being blurred and we’re being asked again and again, who is the monster? Is it the crowds of shadowy figures outside the family’s house intent on doing as much damage as possible during the Purge, or Sandin and his well-to-do family who’ll do whatever it takes to protect their own? Unfortunately, by the end of the movie, I really didn’t give a shit.
All this apart, it’s a very well made film, with a strong cast who generally do their very best with the material. Lena Headey, in particular, is excellent. It’s worth sticking with the movie just to watch her final scene. Priceless.
The film performed very well at the box office with a sequel – THE PURGE 2: ANARCHY – due for release in June.
So you might be wondering, if I felt so strongly about THE PURGE, why did I bother with this write up? Good question. Come back later this week for my next WHAT WORKS FOR ME article and I’ll explain.
Thanks for reading.
Over the years I’ve recommended many films, books, and podcasts. You can find a full list of them here.
A lot of folks find their way to this site from search engines and social media. If you’re new here, let me introduce myself – I’m DAVID MOODY, author of dystopian horror and science-fiction. I’m best known for the HATER and AUTUMN novels, but you can find all my books here.