The idea for “The Purge” was simple.
The idea for “The Purge” was simple: one night a year, all crime, including murder, was legal.
The ramifications of that idea are not so simple. But “The Purge” failed to hit on that note. Granted, it was a somewhat thrilling movie, but it left too many things open to get too attached to the events of the movie, and it didn’t capture the scope of this film’s premise.
In the year 2022, James Sandin (played by Ethan Hawke) is a successful business man who just made a ton of money after selling security systems to people in a stereotypical suburban neighborhood. The security systems, of course, are for Purge night, dispelling any notion that corporate America wouldn’t try to capitalize on even something as horrifying as this evil night. Even some of the neighbors take notice of this now well-to-do family (more on that later).
Sandin, his wife and two children barricade themselves inside their house and watch from a safe room on security cameras to see if anyone tries to cause trouble. Later, when the son is watching alone, he discovers a man who is trying to seek refuge from the purgers. Instinctively, the son opens the security door and lets him in.
The moral qualm of trusting the man comes into play. James, of course, does not, so for a large chunk of the film, he and his family try to capture this intruder. While this made sense for a typical horror film—during the pursuit, there are a few scary pop-ups and tense moments—the idea of “The Purge” took a backseat for quite a while.
It wasn’t until a group of Purgers show up at the Sandins’ front door that the plot was given substance. The Purgers need to “cleanse” their souls, and the intruder apparently is insignificant enough of a person to use for doing so. Now, the family faces a small moral dilemma: should they give the intruder to the Purgers, knowing they would kill him, especially since he’s a big threat to the family? And if they didn’t, the Purgers would break into their home and kill everyone.
For a brief moment, we get a sense of what Purge has done to our society. The movie explains that crime is at 1 percent because people are allowed to unleash their evil side (because apparently that’s what a lot of people would do if given the choice). Purgers are monsters, wearing masks, prancing around with a maniacal persona, as if that’s who they truly are. But the film doesn’t really delve into any of that. Instead, it just reminds us that there are crazy peopleout there. Pretty sure we didn’t need a purge night to know that.
But again, that’s what was missing from the film: the scope of the effects. Would more people take part in this pseudo kill-or-be-killed situation? What about the people who choose to defend themselves by killing also?
None of the characters really faced or showed any conflict or dimension in this respect, save for one scene.
The aforementioned neighbors end up helping the Sandins by coming in and killing the Purgers. But now, the neighbors turn on the Sandins. After all, they were bad people for being smug about their newfound wealth, and that had to be punished, which now is legal. But before the neighbors were able to wreak their wrath, the still-alive intruder saves the Sandins. The tables were flipped, and now the Sandins were the ones with guns pointed at the neighbors. The mother is left with the choice to kill or let live, not easy to do after the threats she just received from them.
Other than the one or two ethical situations that presented themselves, “The Purge,” an idea based on a perplexing notion that could’ve delved into the human psyche, instead turned into a movie that sought after cheap tricks and quick thrills. Too bad.