REVIEW: The Purge

12 06 2013

The PurgeThe amateur sociologist in me finds plenty to love about “The Purge.”  Though not without its holes, the film is aiming at some deep social commentary about the causes of our seemingly never-ending modern woes.  It posits a quasi-utopian 2022 where unemployment and crime have virtually disappeared thanks to a single night called The Purge where nothing is illegal for 12 hours.  Robbery, assault, and even murder are all acceptable because it provides an opportunity for society to unleash all its pent-up anger.

Sound a little elementary to you?  All society needs to do to achieve harmony is get out some rage?  That’s because it is.  Writer/director James DeMonaco has a brilliant concept, but it probably needed a little bit more time to be developed.  For example, for all the psychological good The Purge supposedly does, could you really go to work the next day if your boss tried to kill you as if nothing happened?

Yet while the oversimplification allows for plot holes aplenty, it also allows the film’s message to (hopefully) reach the average horror film viewer, normally not accustomed to anything deep from the genre.  Not to bash an entire class of movies, but horror generally waters down to small universes where only the moral stave off their doom.  “The Purge” is not particularly subversive, but it’s closer to Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” than it is to “Evil Dead.”

The Purge

Rather than playing out the typical survival of the purest scenario, “The Purge” wades into waters that require the audience to actively question their own ethical standards.  Its proximity to our own world makes it difficult to distance ourselves from the action.  As the affluent Sandin family tries to survive The Purge, we are drawn into their decision-making process, constantly left to ask if they are doing the right thing.  And even if they aren’t doing the ethical thing, we have to wonder if we could do any better in their situation.

It asks interesting questions as well: Who are your enemies?  Who are your friends?  Is the devil you know worse than the devil you don’t?  In a godless time, is there any morality or merely the will to power?  Is any one life worth more than the other?  (I wish DeMonaco had more fully thought through the final question posed, because I do think the film’s stance is rather contradictory on it.)

Though far from perfect, “The Purge” is certainly gripping entertainment that sinks its fangs into you with its criticism.  It lacks the full intellect to pack the venom, yet the film’s social insights still have some bite.  Many societal and cultural elite shrug off horror as being void of merit, but I certainly hope the message of “The Purge” gets through to them.  The film’s crucial irony is that the rich people in the film consider the dirty poor to be their greatest threat … yet who they really need to be watching out for is the well-educated and well-off.  B+3stars

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