In the, not so distant, future, 2022 to be exact, the American government institutes a new law established by the New Founding Fathers, which legalises all form of crime from 7pm 21st March to 7am 22nd March – Purge Night – each year. The only rules are that government officials of “rank 10” or higher remain unharmed, while weapons above “Class 4” are forbidden. The aim of this new law, ironically, is to reduce crime as a whole, while at the same time allow humans to vent their ‘inherent’ propensity for violent outlet. The Purge is a sci-fi thriller, directed and written by James DeMonaco, that explores such an idea of social norms, which brings the human moral compass to the fore.
The film indicates that while many agree with the new laws (as demonstrated by a display of blue baptisias outside their homes), there are others who believe that this is simply a mechanism to rid the country of the poor and homeless, most of whom cannot protect themselves during this time. The result, as illustrated by statistics, is that crime has seen a dramatic decline during the 5 years since the ratification of the “28th Amendment.”
The open scene sets a disturbing tone for the film, showcasing previous years’ purge feed, including a number of violent murders; all to the sound of some symphonic music. While its premise may be novel, the thought of such social norms is highly irregular; a thought that you won’t easily escape during the 80+ minutes of running time.
The Purge is a film that seeks to bring a serious point across to the viewer. This, however, cannot be true when you consider how almost every character in the film behaves in a manner that presents no logical sense to consequences that they face – even if we accept its far-fetched plot. This fact is depicted perfectly by the son, Charlie, who disarms the Sandin’s home security system to allow a stranger in while he is being chased by a mob wishing to purge their anger. Each of the characters seem to have no true value for their lives, unless, of course, you assume that they were just that unintelligent to make better choices during a crisis. Although the performances from Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey add some substance, this alone isn’t enough even to save their own characters, let alone an entire movie.
There are many questions raised by DeMonaco here; only some of which he answers. What event, if any, started the need to pass this bill, who are the New Founding Fathers, what do the blue baptisias represent and what happens if you don’t have them displayed, and how would authorities know about the use of “class 4” weapons? There are many other questions, but those will only reveal spoilers.
While the relationships are plausible at first, characters behave illogically at almost every turn with no regard for their own safety let alone that of others. At the same time the story unfolds rather predictably around them. That being said, even with a better written script, the idea behind the film may be too outrageous to be taken seriously. The film attempts to provide reasoning for what becomes a social norm of degenerate behaviour to benefit of all facets of society, but fails to explore the other side, that of the diplomatic and peaceful civilisation. The feeble effort to bring some sense of moral sympathy is all a little too late. In the end, The Purge is nothing more than your run-of-the-mill horror, attempting to provide more shock value than actual content, in which it fails to do even that.
Last Note: The film has already brought in over $73m, with a production budget of just $3m. This means that the film was an unlikely success (despite mostly bad reviews), to which Universal and Blumhouse have already responded with the announcement that a sequel is in development.