The Purge, or How an Interesting Concept Fails to be Interesting

It’s fairly well-known that I’m not super into horror movies. I dig the old school black-and-whites, anything with Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, or Lon Chaney; there are a few modern films I’ve really enjoyed, but they’ve been few and far between. Largely, I’ve found that modern horror is so consumed with blood spatter and gore that all plot is neglected in favor of making the film as violent and disgusting as possible.

I do love this poster, though.

On a whim, I decided to watch The Purge. Kristen was telling me what an interesting concept it had. I told Cas I planned to watched it. “Oh.” “Is it bloody?” “No remotely. Nor is it good.”

I watched it anyway. I love making snarky commentary. For those of you who have not seen it, The Purge is set in a “dystopian” America in 2022 where one night a year, for twelve hours, ALL CRIME, from j-walking to murder, is legal. Medical help and emergency services are suspended. Those who do not wish to participate basically lock themselves in their homes and pray. It sounds like it has so much potential to be interesting.

Sadly, Cas was exactly right. It wasn’t good. In fact, it wasn’t bad enough to just be bad; it was mediocre. The storytelling was poor, disorganized, or all together not there.

Here’s the part where if you still want to see the movie, there may be spoilers. Read at your own risk.

The premise of the film had so much potential, I was extremely disappointed when it failed to deliver anything based on the description.

  • All we know is the year is 2022 and for some reason, the US Government has decided that once a year, all crime is legal. Supposedly, this yearly tradition has eliminated illegal crimes as well as poverty in the States, given that the main targets are the weak and the poor. Other than that, we are given zero background information. How did it start? Why? Who’s idea was this? Okay, you know what? I can probably let this one slide. Suspend my belief. I still want to know, though.
  • The main family has built their fortune selling home security. I’m talking zombie apocalypse strength lockdown. That’s exactly all you get to know about them. They tell their son they “don’t feel the need to purge.” I would have loved some background on whether they’ve participated in the past, why they quit, why they never participated (if that were the case.) We get nothing. As a result, I don’t care about them. Bad news.
  • The characters are stupid. The girl, Zoey, has a boyfriend who’s been banned from seeing her because he’s too old (they look about the same age to me, honestly.) He breaks into the house before lockdown and tells Zoey he’s just going to talk to her dad. Instead, he pulls a gun on Jack. Jack, of course, shoots him. Hello, just because he has a security system doesn’t mean he’s not armed, just in case. Why is it always guns? Why can’t we just have a polite conversation? Do you really think she’s going to want to date you after you murder her father?
  • All crime is legalized, but the only one depicted is murder. As much as I enjoy writing murder scenes and criminal psychology fascinate me, I feel they really missed a great opportunity here. Honestly, I find it hard to believe that, even given zero restrictions, that many people would be like, “Yeah, I’ve a list of people to kill for this year’s Purge.” Personally, I don’t think I’d want to commit any crime. Maybe some light robbery. All the shoes.
  • This is really all Charlie’s fault, but it’s not. No one bothers to explain the Purge to him (or us) so when a bloody man comes down the street screaming for help, what does he do but let him in the house? Charlie is supposed to be “the innocent,” I guess, the reminder that human life is valuable, and the purge, essentially, is horrific. He does bring his parents around to not killing the stranger he let in. Points awarded.
  • It was slow in all the wrong places. Once the stranger is in the house, the party hunting him is told where to find him. The bulk of the movie is the family either trying to find the guy and toss him out so they don’t get murdered, or running around the house to find each other. Flaw one: Your house is too damn big. Flaw two: You build security systems, but you don’t have a back up generator for the lights? Really?
  • Here’s the big one: you sell security, you admit there are ways to get around the defenses (because of course the freaks are pissed that you didn’t give them the mark, so now you all die), but the one thing you apparently didn’t test for was whether or not it could be ripped off the wall?! It’s too easy! I was hoping for some system hacking and battering rams or tunneling under the house. Nope. They hook the grate up to a truck and yank.
  • Even the plot twist wasn’t a twist. It wasn’t even a slight bend. The levels of how unimpressed I was with the “twist” are so high, a graph couldn’t depict it. Bonus: It didn’t make sense. Her neighbors burst in and kill the freaks, but then declare that Mary and the kids are their targets. Why? Because they sold them security systems and then rubbed it in their faces. Um, you baked her cookies twelve hours ago and now you’re out for blood? I have NO IDEA what she was talking about. Because they’re rich? You’re not exactly poor, killing in your Prada suit.
  • The ending is even worse than the “twist.” They just stand there once the sirens call the end of the Purge. Everyone goes home. There’s no real resolution. The credits roll to news reports claiming this was the most successful purge yet. If I lived in this America, I’d be moving.

I will say there were some highlights. Once the freaks are inside, the fighting is pretty creepy and intense, even though it lasts all of two minutes. Toward the end, Mary has called a peace treaty with her backstabbing neighbors. The blonde moves to shoot her and Mary slams her face into the glass table, breaking her nose. I found that very satisfying.

The best part was this guy:

Rhys Wakefield was the best sort a villain: sly, smooth, and possibly insane. He gives the family a deadline to bring out his target. He’s well-educated, he can and will dismantle their system, and he will punish them for denying his right to purge. It’s too bad he didn’t get more screen time, or more development beyond being an entitled psychopath.

Overall, the film was weak. I wanted something more akin to Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.” There’s no real plot other than the killing, and what there could have been was sadly overlooked in favor of some bizarre, pseudo-socio-political commentary on the state of America and how we treat each other and the jealousy we experience for another’s wealth or possessions. I just don’t know what they were going for here.

Character and plot development is important. Without it, you get an hour of lacklustre people doing… stuff. I’m going to purge my thoughts and get back to writing. What would you do if any crime were legal for twelve hours? Would you kill? Why?

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1 Comment

Filed under Writing

One response to “The Purge, or How an Interesting Concept Fails to be Interesting

  1. Upon pondering it more, I think the obvious answer to The Purge is to buy Jodie Foster’s apartment in Panic Room.

    BECAUSE WHY CAN’T YOU JUST LOCK YOURSELF IN A ROOM BUILT TO WITHSTAND EVERYTHING FOR 12 HOURS? (Or, not buy your security system from Ethan Hawke. I’d want to kill him too after seeing how a bunch of surly 20-something’s pulled it down in 5 seconds flat.)

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