While the idea of the Purge has soaked into my mind via the pop culture zeitgeist, I had somehow managed to never see one of these before, so it’s Purge Week. While the political aspect of the franchise is much more obviously front and center in some of the later installments; there is no lack of clear and obvious statements on wealth and equality that this movie will gladly beat the viewer over the head with. Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t present those political views in a tense and engaging way. It’s just that you get the occasional character that might as well turn to the camera and say “The wealthy get rich by exploiting the poor.” There’s gonna be some spoilers sprinkled throughout but nothing in the movie is exactly a twist.
If you haven’t heard what The Purge is about, I would be a bit shocked but here’s the basic rundown of the movie’s premise. It’s 2022 and at some point the “New Founding Fathers” decided to implement a “purge” night where most crime is legal. It’s important to note that not all crime is legal as certain weapons and government officials are still considered off limits. Anyway. the Sandin family are well-to-do and got that way by selling security systems to other scared, rich people. Come purge night, they lock down but their young son sees a man in trouble and lets him in to the house. Turns out he was being hunted by some Ivy League dbags in matching masks and they are none too pleased. They offer the Sandins the chance to hand over the homeless guy they wanted to kill or they will break in and murder everyone.
So the general idea of movie’s message gets foregrounded pretty immediately through some radio and TV broadcast snippets talking about how the night is criticized as being only about harming the poor as they can’t afford to defend themselves. The leader of the Masked literally looks at the security camera and says that he doesn’t want to hurt them because he can see that their upstanding citizens like himself but they need to kill the homeless guy because he has the temerity to fight back when they went to kill him. Of course it also shows that the rich are entirely willing to turn on each other over anything if they think they can get away with it as both the Masked and the neighbors get in on the action against them just because they felt slighted.
So what makes the Sandins different from the rest of the “haves” in this film? There is a throwaway line at one point where the father mentions that just a few years ago they could barely even afford to make rent but, thanks to rich people not wanting to get killed, he has made a ton of money off selling home security systems. Not only is the family not one that was born into money but they also made it exploiting the rich instead of the poor. This just plays into the other theme that is extremely front-and-center: entitlement. The others around them feel entitled to what they have and the picture of the perfect suburban home only gets shattered when they are denied (The Masked) or feel like someone has profited from them (the neighbors). Even the daughter’s boyfriend tries to kill the dad when it seems like he is going to be denied a relationship because he is 18 and she is not. He feels entitled to her and violence is the response to being denied.
Score: 4 out of 5. Lena Headey and Ethan Hawke both do a great job. The political message is extremely heavy handed which is what stops this from being a much better film but the idea was fresh at the time and executed competently.
P.S. – I could literally talk for hours about the logistics and problems with the purge as a concept but I almost feel like that would be like nitpicking Night of the Living Dead because zombies don’t exist. That’s the premise so you buy-in or don’t. I still might get more into that as I watch more of these Purge films and run out of new things to talk about.