The Purge (2013)
The best advertising someone can hope for is free advertising. While Blumhouse did do a pretty decent job promoting The Purge a lot of word of mouth prior to its opening was different news shows and articles discussing its premise. What would our country be like if there was a 12-hour period once a year where we could carry out our basest desires and no one could do anything about it? I really don't remember a whole lot of answers, other than it was an "interesting" idea.
An interesting idea it is and one that worked to hook audiences into seeing this movie. Honestly, the movie needed the hook, because despite being framed as a dystopian survival thriller it was another in a line of home invasion films. Writer and director James DeMonaco based it on a conversation he had with his wife after getting into a fist fight with a drunk driver during a road rage event. She mentioned how it would be nice if people were allowed one murder a year, and it ballooned into The Purge.
It is a few hours before the annual purge, which begins at 7:00 pm on March 21 and lasts until 7:00 am the next morning. During this time all crimes, including murder, are legal. There are some caveats: no explosives or weapons of mass destruction and no killing high level government officials. People are encouraged to participate and place blue flowers, with an American flag, in front of their houses to show that they support the Purge and the New Founding Fathers of America, the right-wing religious cabal that became the majority party in 2014 and won the presidency in 2016.
In 2022 security system salesman James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) arrives home to his wife Mary (Lena Headey) and children Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder). They proceed to settle in for the night, but soon have two uninvited guests: Zoey's boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller), who has remained behind to "confront" James about forbidding him to see his daughter, and a homeless man (Edwin Hodge) that Charlie gives refuge to. This latter act of kindness leads to the Sandins' home coming under siege by a gang of privileged teenagers, whose leader (Rhys Wakefield) demands the man be turned over to them so they can kill him. If their demands are not met they intend to murder the entire family, which leaves the Sandins with the dilemma of turning over the man or letting them have him.
There are a few important things to be said here and, while I hate getting political in my reviews, this is one of the exceptions where I will overstep that boundary simply because The Purge, and its sequels, are clearly meant to be so. DeMonaco has stated his hatred and fear of guns, which makes it clear why so many of the guns the Sandins have for backup defense are big, clunky and overpowered for home defense. It is a typical misconception by those who do not have experience with firearms that the scarier a gun looks the deadlier it is. Having four shotguns, plenty of ammo and decent training for each member of the family would be more useful than the elephant gun that James ends up using against the intruders. Sure, maybe not as cool looking, but more efficient and definitely less likely to be taken away or accidentally kill a family member standing behind a wall.
Second, and I will get this out for this review and not repeat it for all my Purge reviews going forth, the entire idea of the Purge is ludicrous. People who are not going to commit murder are not going to do it just because they've been told it's legal for a few hours. In most cases people are going to get high, write some naughty words on a wall and help themselves to a new television set. They are more likely to get shot by people defending their stuff rather than people "releasing the beast." Also, making it legal for a certain period is not going to prevent the people who want to commit murder and other major crimes from doing it the other 364 days. We have penalties for doing that - life imprisonment and, in a number of states, death - and people still do it. If the NFFA are as neo-fascist as they sound I'm sure there may be things such as public whippings and humiliation which also in the past failed to deter the worst criminals.
The Purge: Anarchy had a bigger budget and was able to deliver on the promises that this movie made. As it is, the idea was there, but the ability to execute it was not. Still, the second movie, like this one, is not concerned with actual human psychology or what normal people would be doing in this situation, but is concerned with class warfare and racism. The group chasing the homeless man are all rich white kids, with the leader even wearing his prep school uniform. It's not an accident the homeless man is black and, although the kids are careful not to mention his race, it's quite clear why they targeted him of all homeless people. The point made is the same one that the left, particularly out of Hollywood, have been hammering home for ever: white people are evil, and rich white people even worse. And, as always, it's a point hammered home by an industry that is controlled by the ultra-rich, has high incidences of sexual assault and blackballing of those who speak out and maintains racial attitudes that, despite preaching diversity through tokenism in many current films and television shows, are 50 to 60 years behind the rest of the United States.
This movie has baggage that DeMonaco saddled it with from the beginning and, in the end, is ill-equipped to deal with. That doesn't mean this is a bad movie; I typically don't like home invasion films, but this one is halfway decent, even if it is light on the character development. The only two people I ended up caring about in the whole thing were Charlie and the man he let in. None of the deaths have emotional impact for the audience, and that is not helped by the fact that none of the characters show any outward emotion toward the most important deaths in the film. I do like the twist at the end because DeMonaco, while trying to make a satirical comment on neighborhood jealousies, inadvertently shows us what class envy leads to when mob thinking takes over. The acting isn't bad and what world building there is works, even though I'm sure no one really serious thought we might elect someone to power almost as bad as the NFFA in 2016. I know it was a budget limitation, but I also appreciate that, though set 9 years in the future from when it was made, the world of 2022 wasn't flying cars and laser guns.
Although DeMonaco would double-down on his simplistic us versus them politics going forward, this is a case where The Purge had to prove itself so that the actual movies that matter in the series could be made. After this we get what everyone hoped for from this one as well as a bit more fleshing out of the concept and the world it takes place in. As for this, it's decent, and it is nice see Lena Headey bouncing someone's head off a table, but the bulk of this movie could have been set at any point and still had the same impact and outcome without a sci-fi concept attached.
The Purge (2013)
Time: 85 minutes
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield
Director: James DeMonaco