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the purge

A movie directed by James DeMonaco

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A Good Premise that More or Less Gets Abandoned

  • Jun 9, 2013
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When you first hear about the premise of The Purge it's one of the few moments where you cock an eyebrow and think to yourself that it's actually an interesting idea.  It is, after all, a premise that has come by in an era where everything being produced right now feels like something that'll be a safe bet.  Things like the sixth Fast and the Furious movie or like the next big Comic Book movie are things that are primarily being produced right now because they're safe bets.  Things that will make money.  The risky stuff often gets saved for later.  The things that are not quite atypical are being saved for later.  But there's nothing quite wrong with "playing it safe."  But there is something very strange about having such a neat premise and never actually falling through with it.  The Purge is actually a good idea with a pretty bad execution of it.  Proving once and for all that execution and presentation is everything no matter how original or simplistic your idea might be.  The Purge comes across as a real missed opportunity basically because you're really given what appears to be something to think about... only for it to never really care to address those things.

So the premise of The Purge.  It's outstanding premise is that for one day of the year there is something called "The Purge."  It basically states that for one day of the year EVERYTHING is legal.  It's a day in which you can basically go out and do anything you want.  If you want to steal from someone you can do it.  If you want to murder someone you can do it.  If you want to bomb a building you can do it.  It's a day in which everyone is allowed to get any malicious crime out of their system.  There are no consequences on this day and there are no police to stop anyone.  You also don't have to worry about anything the day after when it's all done.  The world goes back to being a normal place.

And as we learn, The Purge is a success.  Unemployment is at an all time low and crime is basically a non-issue because as it turns out... giving everyone just ONE day to get whatever it is out of their system has worked out well.  This premise, of course, is good because it brings about a lot of rousing questions.  The wealthy, of course, are able to protect themselves on this day because not only can they afford the safety but also perhaps even not worry about it because of a big army and whatnot they can hire.  The poor, obviously have the most to fear because anyone being able to do anything they want leaves them the most vulnerable.  So many big questions are raised.  Ethical questions.  Questions of class.  Questions of race relations, poverty, the ethical nature of man.  Or, perhaps most important of all, the dormant demons lying within the hearts of the so-called "normal" family we all envision.  Imagine, if you will that deep down inside the family from Leave it to Beaver were actually a bunch of psychopaths that, on this particular day, let those psychotic colors fly with brilliance!  Really, this premise is so good because you can do so much with it.  For instance, if you just take away all the laws of the land, would society function or would it crumble?  Do laws really keep some people from doing wrong etc.?

Instead, however, the film basically uses this premise to be a simple home-invasion type story.  The only real difference is that this time you won't be asking, "Why don't they just call the cops?" or "Why haven't the copes gotten there yet?" after the characters do because you have your answer.  During The Purge all law enforcement isn't allowed to do anything.

Though there is a bit of that class struggle thing in there.  The movie isn't subtle about it at all.  Ethan Hawke plays a man who pretty much got his wealth because of The Purge.  He creates home security systems that (to no surprise really) have sold really well thanks to The Purge.  While keeping his family safe, James arms the security system.  During the purge, a Bloody Stranger comes to the house, begging to be taken inside because other strangers are out to kill him.  So James's son disarms the security system and lets him in.  The men chasing the Bloody Stranger appear and this is where The Purge pretty much becomes nonsensical.

As it turns out the army of Strangers out to get the Bloody Stranger are of the rich and preppy variety and believe that it is their job as US Citizens to purge the world of the poor and homeless because they're not really doing anything for society.  Basically, because they're poor and helpless they need to die.  Real subtle movie.  At some point you wonder why the director didn't just refer to the strangers as the Republican National Committee just to really hammer is point in, and on top of all that: Make Mitt Romney the leader. 

Let's be clear about a couple of things.  There's hardly anything wrong with really having a straightforward political message (if it's there).  There's hardly anything wrong with simplistic themes or anything like that.  But in this manner there are two major problems I have with this.  The first IS that one of the characters basically sits there and explains it to us.  If only because it's not as though the movie has really gone to great lengths to hide that this is really what the purge is about.  The movie is so in your face about it, that really all that we can wonder is just how stupid the film makers expected their audience to be.  This all comes after the film has more or less settled on doing a straightforward home invasion story and sort of forgetting about The Purge for a minute.  The movie doesn't ask a lot of big questions.  In theory, this is fine, but it still can't hide the fact that The Purge sort of has a premise that makes it hard to ignore the big questions it will undoubtedly bring up.  But regardless it's all thrown out the window because at some point the film pretty much tells you what you're supposed to think about it and who you're supposed to hate.

The second big problem is just how this whole thing is presented and laid out.  Put into this sort of way that there's no actual civility in the argument itself.  It's actually not bad to point out that in The Purge the rich and wealthy would probably fare better than the poor.  But there is something really strange about this idea of, "What we're really saying is that rich people want to eradicate the poor!"  And while Ethan Hawke's character is certainly not portrayed as all around evil, the movie makes sure that he's punished just the same (although not without giving us the, "He was right all along,") thing.  They all support The Purge because it's overall made the country a better place but none of them want to have any part in it. 

The problem is the weight of this clear political messaging and push also gets buried at some point.  Since The Purge abandons a lot of it early on, when it resurfaces near the end it's certainly not nearly as necessary for the story at hand.  Everything it has to say about class, race or what have you can easily be forgotten when you realize that the movie pretty much didn't want to focus on that once the bad guys are actually in the home in the first place.  Or how the characters try to deal with whether or not they should give up the Bloody Stranger to begin with.  The story itself doesn't support the message it's trying to put out. 

In the long run, really, The Purge isn't horrible.  It's just at some point it becomes really strange that The Purge pretty much never decides to reach when it's so clear that it can.  All that stuff on the table and it settles for the Home Invasion route.  All that stuff on the table about class struggle and all that stuff and instead it just goes for the, "Rich people are evil and want to kill the poor," instead of going for something greater and (frankly) less juvenile.  In reality, I think I'd much rather have seen a film about how our "normal everyday family," is secretly just as batshit insane as everyone else when there is nothing to stop them from being batshit insane. 

This isn't even talking about some of the subplots that either go no where or are pretty much cut short.  There's a whole spiel about the daughter dating a guy that's a little too old for her that pretty much never goes anywhere (and is, in fact, cut short fairly quickly).  There's also the part about The Bloody Stranger that is basically used to serve as nothing more than a plot device.  And aside from just doing what he's needed to do in any given situation, he's pretty much a character that's just there until he's actually needed for something. 

LIkewise, the big twist at the end is a pretty obvious one because there's really no other way for this movie to go, and there are no actual red herrings to lead you AWAY from the movie's "big reveal," at the end.  The movie almost more or less tells you what's going to happen at the end just based on some of the things you'll see in the beginning.  In fact, if they actually wanted to do a decent twist they'd have settled for doing the OPPOSITE of what happens. 

In the long run I really like the idea of The Purge, I just don't like everything they did with it.  The movie itself isn't quite horrible, but it's certainly not a good one.  A good premise gives way to pretty much a run of the mill home invasion movie while pretty much forgetting about it's big ideas in the process.

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June 10, 2013
I think most reviewers are in agreement that this botched its premise and really wasted its potential. I mean, it made me so angry that it did not go further with the "Purge' itself. The things that could've been done...this would've been one of the most innovative thrillers if only it was executed right. The characters were so shallow that I did not care about them at all...
June 09, 2013
Interesting perspectives! Thanks for the heads up.
More The Purge (2013 film) reviews
review by . June 09, 2013
posted in Movie Hype
So Much Potential
In a not-so-distant future, where one night in one year comes a time when all crime is allowed, that such a move had been sanctioned by the U.S. government. Such a concept is so intriguing that I wanted to know just what could’ve happened that had provoked such a step in society and just what would one do when one lives in such a time and place. The trailers for the “The Purge” had suggested a horror thriller where a family has been caught in such a maelstrom of chaos and disorder. …
review by . June 03, 2013
posted in Movie Hype
By the year 2022 the US government, led by our New Founding Fathers, has managed to crawl its way out of a triple dip recession and record crime rates. Unemployment stands at 1%, and crime is at an all time low. With one exception. Once a year, on a date designated as The Purge, for twelve hours all crime is legal. Rape, murder, theft, the entire US has a free pass to do whatever they wish and suffer no repercussions for it. In a single day thousands are murdered and millions of dollars worth of …
Quick Tip by . June 02, 2013
Though The Purge has a very interesting (though unrealistic) concept, in the end its little more than an interesting idea surrounded by a bad movie. The characters are boring, the direction horrible, and what little social commentary we get is so heavy handed you'll feel like a child being preached to. What ultimately dooms this movie, in my opinion, is that they filmed it as if it were a horror movie, though there is nothing even remotely scary about it. My advice, save this one as a rental and …
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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