The Purge – 2013
Written & Directed by James DeMonaco
Starring Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, Tony Oller, Arija Bareikis
Dystopian stories are often made with some political point in mind. The author generally feels that we have valued something in society that not only could cause our destruction, but will be overlooked to the point of being repeated after the destruction occurs. The New Founding Fathers of The Purge have seemingly solved the problems of crime, violent or otherwise, with one night of lawless violence per year. Who these rebirthing Founders are and how their one night per year formula took care of our baser instincts for the other 364 nights is unclear. There is supposedly some connection to antiquity with something called Krypteia. In this tradition Spartans were granted free reign to kill helots, who were a people somewhere “between free and slave,” without any fear of reprisal. The concept seems more like bullying of one class over another, while the purge of the film gives the appearances of all people under a certain class as targets. Equals within the classes can afflict one another too. Why anyone would agree to this, I have no idea. For purposes of the story however, most people on the screen seem reverent to the changes, when it is convenient to them. We will follow suit, no matter how unlikely. This is called the suspension of disbelief, in literary circles.
In the case of The Purge, we have merged the dystopia with the home invasion film. This usually contains several elements:
- A seemingly impenetrable fortress
- Overconfident parent with a flaw to be exploited
- Another parent who is generally pure but uneasy with the situation
- One child who is in a dispute with the father
- One child, usually younger, who is clever beyond his years, has his doubts but generally supports his parents
- An unknown element that gets in the house
- An unknown and malevolent force that is intimidating and usually wants the unknown element that got into the house
- Another element, sometimes but not always the malevolent one that is tied to the father’s flaw
All of these elements are hit, often with a thud. There is not any element which is not obvious and labored. DeMonaco had experience with Hawke on a film much like this before: writing a remake of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. It garnered decent critical praise, even if it just broke even at the box office. This time through, there are fewer people inside holding weapons, but it doesn’t keep the body count any lower. The malevolent forces are faceless in this film, aside from their leader. Why they would choose to hide with no fear of prosecution is probably due to the need to market the film and create a signature look, like they did with the Scream films or what happened incidentally with Carpenter’s Halloween.
The point that DeMonaco wants to make about society is lost in the inadvertent statement his lack of creativity makes about film making in general. The most original element he adds puts a damper on whatever it was that passed for momentum in the film. At the crucial moment where she has the opportunity to make a decision for vengeance, she opts to have everyone sit at the table until time for the purge runs out. Her behavior is not unique. I feel most people who love their family would think this way. It belies the strength of the power of the “new” Founding Fathers to impose such barbarism on a society filled with loving parents.
(** out of *****)