Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Well-Intentioned, But Misguided -- Reflections on THE PURGE (2013)

Seen this movie before? I bet you have.
A Twilight Zone episode that reaches for satire, but winds up spending too much time catering to its baser instincts, The Purge is well-intentioned, sometimes smart, but ultimately wasted potential. The premise quickly establishes that sometime around 2016, the U.S. government has another revolution, that when settled, calls for a special 12-hour period every year in which all civic services are shut down and citizens are allowed to engage in whatever crimes they fancy, including murder. In 2023, our wealthy protagonist family, the Sandins, find themselves under siege after their altruistic son disarms the family’s security system to rescue a frightened homeless man from a group of savage yuppies hot on his trail. From the get-go, the movie does a good job setting its sights on its intended satirical targets: rich vs. poor warfare, government hand washing, white guilt.

But then James DeMonaco’s script drops its gun and starts tearing down his own satire by turning the film into a standard, run of the mill home invasion horror flick. This could have had its own guilty pleasures, but unfortunately the Sandin family’s characters are never clearly defined beyond ambitious father, protective mother, world saving son, and angst ridden daughter, so we are unable to really care much as the threat of the invasion progresses. The villains are the typical home invasion types – happy-go-lucky knife wielders who dance and laugh their way through the mayhem like members of the Jokers’ extended family. And the homeless man is pretty much a forgotten entity until the plot needs him to be remembered.

If this wasn’t enough, the film then forgets that in its premise, all crime is legal during this period, yet the only thing anyone is keen on is murder. It’s always been my feeling that killing another human has to be one of the hardest things in the world to do, hence why our soldiers have to be trained. Yet, in this movie, no one seems to have much difficulty slicing, dicing, and shooting – in fact, they enjoy it. I get that this is supposed to be all in good fun, but when the intent of the filmmaker is to give us a heavy handed sermon about how unfair our society is, shouldn’t the narrative be fair as well? The movie seems to want to say that all people are just psychopaths in disguise, and once society’s rules are lifted they will have no problem releasing the monster within. Yet, this only seems to apply to the rich, and not the poor, who may have more reason to be angry and anxious for the Purge to arrive. DeMonaco only shows one side of the story, and the result is a potentially good film that can’t stop congratulating itself for its own cleverness.

It’s a shame, because had this film had the balls to stick to its guns – like better home invasion films, like Michael Haneke’s Funny Games – it might have been able to really get us thinking about important societal issues involving rich/poor relations. Instead, we get yet another horror film that is more about the violence than the more disturbing ideas behind the bloodshed.