The Purge is a sci-fi, horror, thriller set in a politically dystopian future where for 12 hours, once a year, all crime is legal, the idea being that criminality is purged from the general public meaning the rest of the year stays relatively crime free. Given it’s fairly low-budget, $3mil, it took the box office by storm, grossing over $89mil in its cinema run. Despite negative reviews, The Purge looks set for a sequel, The Purge: Anarchy is in the works. And I have to say, I’m not overly excited about it. In fact, I’m fairly ambivalent toward The Purge as a whole.
I found The Purge really problematic. It’s an interesting idea, which raises some really interesting cultural and political issues, but never really focusses on any of them at the expense of overly long ‘creeping about the house trying to work out what that sound was’ shots. this leads into another problem I had with The Purge. It doesn’t know what it is, it’s not particularly scary (apart from now obligatory horror totem – the jump scare, but even then, I discount jump scares when discussing horror films), it doesn’t explore any of its mythology which underpins the entire premise of the film (leaving the sci-fi tag a bit redundant) and the thriller element kind of relies on the horror element, which fails, so there isn’t really anything thriller-ish about it. This tangled mess of nothing and everything, where the story is brilliant but executed so badly, it can never recover, is hard work.
The Purge also plays up to social and cultural stereotypes in possibly the most unsubtle way. The rich people are hateful and spiteful, the poor are merely victimised within The Purge (by getting rid of the poor, we have less crime), and perhaps worse still, the only black man in the film is typecast upon first appearance, as a homeless violent criminal who poses a threat to the rich white family. Whilst this turns around at the end, the damage is already done. I don’t know what the filmmakers wanted to do with the black character, but his role ultimately feels like a badly executed moral message, ‘you assumed the black guy was going to murder everyone? Well aren’t you a bit racist’ – despite the fact that he was set up like that? Before I start getting comments saying that I’ve missed the point of The Purge, I haven’t, but if a film choses to touch on cultural issues like this, there needs to be a reasonable and stable exploration, rather than exploiting such issues as time/screen fillers. It comes across as trying to say something profound, without actually having to engage with the issue. And it says it very loudly and stupidly. As if the stereotyping wasn’t bad enough, the fact that the elder daughter seems to be focussed on in an immensely voyeuristic way. She’s festishised as a sexually active school girl, complete with tartan skirt and just open blouse. She literally serves no purpose other than sexual exploitation, and that’s before we even discuss the fact that she’s quite clearly borderline legal.
The premise of The Purge is brilliant, insightful and intriguing, but the execution is just depressingly bad. There are many horror films which explore cultural issues effectively without having to sacrifice terror, the most famous that springs to mind The Exorcist, supposedly an examination of ‘broken home’ culture in post-feminism America. Whilst not as obvious, it still retains a certain morality to it. The Purge is filled with tired and familiar horror clichés which firmly ensure its place in the raft of crap horror movies from recent years. The characters are stupid, unlikable, boring and one-dimensional. You finish the film not particularly caring whether they die or not. In fact, I was hoping (before I learnt of the sequel) that they would die, so a sequel couldn’t easily be made (stupid film critic, of course the death of an entire cast doesn’t rule out a sequel), well they don’t all die. But the ones who don’t deserve to die, do. There are also problematic gaping plotholes in The Purge, such as, sexy school girl’s boyfriend makes an attempt to **SPOILER** murder her father, for no real apparent reason. I think were just meant to assume that because he’s wearing low slung jeans and not a school uniform he’s quite clearly older, stupider and probably erring more toward the drug dealer life than respectable business man life, he must therefore be hated by sexy school girls father, therefore it’s probably best to just off him so they can go off and have drunk sex and make a baby. Or whatever it is that happens to sexy rich school girls and bad boys. To be honest I couldn’t care less. And clearly the makers of The Purge couldn’t care less either.
It’s a shame that The Purge has spectacularly failed on so many levels, the premise, as mentioned before, is interesting. But ultimately, stupid characters, mindless violence and a badly written story undermine anything decent that The Purge has to say. It’s not enjoyable, flimsy and boring. And unfortunately it’s just another example of why modern horror is so rubbish. I will be avoiding the sequel like the plague.
(P.S Ethan Hawke Fans stay tuned for a much more favourable review of a much better horror film…)