Review: The Purge

The Purge

The James DeMonaco directed action thriller The Purge takes an interesting look at morality, human nature, and classism. For a movie that is just ripped for violence and over the top deaths The Purge has a lot of things to say. Merging the notions of morality with societal divisions is great in concept however, The Purge fails to deliver on all these wonderful promises.

Set in the not so distant future of 2022, The Purge opens with closed circuit television footage of the violence from a previous lawless evening known as the purge; a once a year 12 hour ritual of government sanctioned mayhem. The scenes were brutal and worked to really bring you into the sadistic world that you were going to explore. Immediately following we are dropped into present time with the happy go lucky view of the world through the lens of James Sandin (Ethan Hawke). We hear as James gets news of becoming the top salesmen at his job, which is selling high priced security systems to the very wealthy. James and his family live in an extravagant house due to his work. With his wife Mary (Lena Headey), son Charlie (Max Burkholder), and daughter (Adelaide Kane) the Sandins are a perfect little family on the surface. As the 4 of them ready themselves for this year’s purge we get glimpses of Charlie’s concern with morality and specifically whether killing is OK even if its legal. Television interviews with psychologists stating that violence is human nature and that the purge in needed for this American society to not only survive but thrive plays eloquently in the background.

Countdown ends and the purge begins. Everything is fine until a man starts traversing the neighborhood asking for help. He is homeless and is being pursued by some people wishing to kill him. Charlie decided to drop the security measures of the house temporarily and let the man in. Later on through a series of events a group of young people come looking for the homeless man (Edwin Hodge). They threaten to kill all of the Sadins if the man isn’t relinquished to them. They are lead by a clearly sadistic aristocrat (Rhys Wakefield) type who communicates all of the group’s plans on getting into the house.

At this point in the movie we all know what happens for the most part. The bad guys get in and the family and the homeless man have to fight them off. That’s the most visually stunning part of the movie, as the build up to them getting in the house and the actual moment when they do is rather dull. What is much more interesting is the messages that are addressed in this movie. Firstly, as I said before we are presented with morality questions. Is it OK to kill if your government says so? For me the notion of murder is something that I choose not to do not because of a law, but rather a personal self determined code of ethics. The Purge seems to challenge the viewer to live in the gray area; I actually liked that. Making the audience actually think about something is rare in these types of movies. However, this morality grayness is completely undercut by the movie’s ending. The question of right and wrong are subject to conditions and mitigating circumstances in this twisted future United States, but in the end we are given the same white hat versus black hat battle.

The second major theme in this movie is societal divide. The fact that the homeless man is black was not by chance. Signifying the struggle of minorities in the U.S. even in 2022. The rich and privileged prey on the poor and seemingly weak for fun. Cleansing the economy of these poor people (read: not job creators) is a conversation that happens only in the background, but never by the main characters. Its just touched on to seemingly just check a box. I think there was a truly missed opportunity to delve into something more complex and sinister about the system that had been created by the often mentioned “new founding fathers.” Instead we were subjected to shotgun blasts and knife wounds. In their own right those two bits of violence are fine, but to touch on and promise a more interesting plot was just foolish. Its like going to a restaurant and reading a wonderful menu only to be brought garbage as the meal. In parts The Purge gets some cheers. I still enjoy a well placed kill and the creepiness of Rhys Wakefield’s character was enjoyable. However, the rest of the cast was largely forgettable. In the hands of a better writer this movie could have gone from a throwaway to something that makes people question the societal divides in which they participate in. The Purge creates the questions but never takes the time to explore them.

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