James DeMonaco's The Purge had every potential to be more than just a good home-invasion thriller. The film is set in 2022, and the concept is that for one night every year all criminal activity is legal, giving the rich and privileged one national hunting holiday to vent their anger through killing, ridding the nation of the poor and homeless. This is quite enough to draw the audience in, wanting to see what more the director can do with this gimmicky high-concept.
What's more interesting about this film is its timeliness: there's an element of absurdity in people's over-obsession in killing other people just to release their anger, which serves quite well as a political comment on the much-debated gun control laws in the US, satirising some Americans' love of firearms.
But everything that seems promising at first falls just short: The Purge as a thriller fails to excite and its role as a social commentary also fails to deliver its message.
The film focuses on one wealthy family, the Sandins, on the eve of the annual purge, and it seems like the plot is speeding up when the young son Charlie (Max Burkholder) decides to disarm the security system his father James (Ethan Hawke) has just set up to let in a homeless stranger. By doing so, the son has turned their sealed-in home into a target for a group of rich people, "the purgers", who are hell-bent on killing the homeless man.
But as the film is about to get more compelling with "the purgers" trying to break in and with James facing the dilemma of sending the homeless man out or putting his family at risk, some viewers might still find it hard to be drawn into the world the film is creating.
It is true that the film is set in the future but some realistic and believable explanation is still needed. Does the desire for a world without unemployment and crime or the need to release anger really justify the killing of innocent people? Is the privileged class's desire for a utopian world that strong and the need to vent their negative emotions that powerful that killing has become such a joy among "the purgers"?
It seems that the director focused too much on the absurdity of people's motivation for violence that he forgot quite a few things which don't really add up. There's a group of people coming after the bum, and when the Sandins wouldn't send him out, they decide to call for more force to break the home down. They go to all that trouble for no other reason than because he's a homeless man who, to make matters more baffling, they have never even met before.
Later in the story the plot seems to make even less sense. After the purgers finally break into the house, the Sandins' neighbours try to attack them too since they become angry that the Sandins have gotten rich from their home security business. Is it possible that neighbourly jealousy will become such a deadly emotion about 10 years from now?
While The Purge could have been a thriller with a social message discreetly hidden underneath, it ends up being the opposite: the allegory about the obsession with guns and violence (the purgers) versus the questioning new generation (Charlie) with the indecisive James caught in between that tries to sneak itself into the guise of a thriller but ends up being too pronounced.
About the author
- Writer: Kaona Pongpipat