Imagine if, in the very near future, it becomes legal to commit any crime you want for a 12-hour-period every year. By allowing society to get its murderous rage out of its system, crime drops dramatically the rest of the year to the point that it is nearly nonexistent. Yes, the concept is ludicrous, as allowing people to riot does much more than a single day’s damage. But at least, for a movie premise, it is a compelling enough basis to build on.
The Purge, however, fails miserably. The film never manages to become less ridiculous than its hook, and despite the sci-fi dystopic concept, it plays out much more like a B horror movie with cheap scares.
First off, The Purge tries to make a statement about what society has become by presenting this preposterous concept as old hat to the family of main characters. They talk about watching the Purge coverage on the news later. They have a little family spat about nothing. Then they get so distracted with dinner that they forget to lock down their house until 5 minutes before the massacre begins. I understand they want to display a casual acceptance of something we find morbid, but it doesn’t work at all.
"Oh my God, guys! I almost forgot it was time for the annual 12-hour massacre! Silly me. You see, everybody’s, like, totally casual about it. It’s not really a big deal. Except the entire neighborhood including us has installed state-of-the-art security systems just for this one period every year, but of course, we almost forgot to USE IT. But whatevs, I was cooking pasta."
Picture a night without police where thousands of people roam the street with guns to satisfy their base desires. Our main characters have their house surrounded as a pack of hoodlums intends to break in. While half of them have guns, the other half look like ghost movie rejects. They have spooky dresses with monster masks and walk around like zombies, dragging machetes or baseball bats on the floor. Now, I don’t know about you, but this is the worst planning ever. I’d imagine someone dressed as a crazy person wielding an ax would only manage twenty paces outside their house before they got shot on a night like this. But it doesn’t matter. The movie doesn’t care to make the mindless enemies believable, as long as they can jump in front of the camera and make the audience scream, they’ve served their purpose.
A Noble Lesson
The ridiculousness continues when it comes time for our family to learn from their trials. During the course of the entire viewing, it is shoved down the audience’s throats how normal this event is. In fact, we are told the Purge is good for society. It is a release valve that prevents the country from imploding. Anyway, despite the film’s attempts to convince us that killing is okay, at the end of it all, the good guys decide to stop the violence.
Get it? Killing is wrong! You see?
The entire premise of the film is ridiculous, which is why they tried to hard to convince us otherwise. As a moral lesson, it’s an obtuse one, since it’s likely the whole audience already agrees that murdering people is a bad thing to begin with.
Admittedly, a lot of sci-fi movies do this. Think about Logan’s Run, Minority Report, etc., where dystopic ideals are supposed to be scary. The main character always comes to realize that the opinions of the audience are the ‘right’ way. But at least those movies do a lot more world-building to convince us that what we’re seeing is plausible.
Not so much with The Purge. Between Judge Dredd and this, Cersei hasn’t had a whole lot of luck with movies. But at least Ethan Hawke dies, so there’s that.