Dir. James DeMonaco (2013)
To alleviate rising crime, the US government institutes a 12-hour period where all crime (with a few exceptions) become legal. Things become a little scary when rich people begin to be targeted as well.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
An entirely unsubtle skewering of the social class system in America, The Purge is the film that America needed in 2013 and needs even more today. The movie is about a “scientific” approach to eliminating crime by allowing Americans to indulge their violent and aggressive impulses during a pre-determined and legally-allowed time period. Ironically ignoring most of the social causes of crime, the nationwide Purge allows people to rob banks, shoplift, and even murder with impunity. This appears to have worked well for the country, as violent crime dips to its lowest recorded levels in history.
I mean, if you don’t count this shit.
Ethan Hawke (Sinister) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) play a couple who lock themselves in their home to avoid any possibly purging criminals during the event, bolting the doors on their mansion paid for by Hawke’s job selling security systems for houses. When locals who are determined to express their violent desires break in, there is a struggle for survival that will see the couple and their children pressed to their limit to avoid the consequences of the system that Hawke’s job upholds and strengthens. This opens the door to the brilliant social commentary inherent in the idea of the series that the first film (almost) completely ignores.
This is an older movie, so you’ll forgive a bit of spoilers in the section ahead. The first Purge film (not The First Purge, which will come later) is about the concept of the Purge turning itself on its head, with a rich family being targeted by other purging rich families from the neighborhood. As much as The Purge attempts to draw the comparison between the events that the rich are happy to inflict upon the poor but loathe to experience themselves, the fact that the entire first film deals with the torture and violence committed on a rich family makes the movie more of a social commentary in theory than it is in practice. The voiceovers that we see from the television talk about things like the “elimination of the unproductive from society” as a benefit of the Purge itself and how the economy rises when the poor are more often eliminated, but we don’t get to see a lot of that in action in the first film.
That being said, the fact that the film discusses these issues, largely ignored by society and film in general, is an incredibly impressive feat. The fact that it did so while becoming an incredibly popular film, something that largely escapes other social/political horror films like it, is even more incredible. This is largely because the movie is a fucking blast to watch and an incredibly unique concept that was executed phenomenally well. The acting is more than adequate, with Hawke and Headey doing a great job as the protective parents and Rhys Wakefield as one of the scariest psychopaths in modern cinema. It’s very much a Blumhouse film in look (well before that meant anything to the general public), which works perfect for the type of film that this is.
The Purge is far from perfect, but it’s still a damn good flick. It’s lost a lot of popularity in recent years and didn’t seem to get great reviews upon release. I fucking loved it, but I definitely can understand how it can be a bit of a turnoff with the recent political climate. When a film like this begins to feel more like real life than entertainment, it definitely makes the whole concept a bit more disturbing and can turn some of the more moderate horror fans off. The film suffers more from reality than concept, struggling to keep pace with what feels more and more like something that is an inevitability. Perhaps that’s the scariest thing of all.
Who this movie is for: Modern horror fans, Socially conscious film lovers, Donald Trump
Bottom line: A perfect blend of social commentary that opens the door to sequels by not offending too many people, The Purge is a brilliant take on the class system in America. It’s bloody enough to satisfy the people looking for that and it’s slickly shot enough to satisfy Blumhouse horror fans. While it doesn’t delve deeply enough into its message, it opens the door and whets the appetite for further analysis of the cause it seeks to champion. Hawke, Headey, and Wakefield are fantastic, crafting a believable story that was an incredibly unique take on a home invasion thriller.