Problems with The Purge


As many of you will know there’s a new film out in cinemas now in the form of the sequel to The Purge. From the looks of it the film is going to be much what you would expect from a horror-thriller sequel; the trailer consists of violence, eerie music, quick editing, “deep” and emotional lines, references to relatives who are presumed deceased, and then an addition to the storyline at the end that wasn’t a surprise in any sense of the word. But then based on the nature of the first film, is there anything else we would expect?

I watched the first film recently in fact. I bought it for about five pounds on a sale section in a supermarket, but I didn’t buy it because I was looking for a good film, I bought it because I was curious. The idea behind it intrigued me. All crimes being legal for twelve hours. Just thinking about it is weird because I genuinely don’t know what I would do in that scenario. Furthermore I don’t even know if I would survive the night, I have annoyed many people in time on this planet so there could very well be a bullet or a blade with my name on it. Nonetheless I sat down with an open mind to watch The Purge, and found myself torn by the end of it. As a film it is a very mixed bag that inevitably does not hold together.

Before I go any further I will just say that I will try to speak spoilerese for anyone who hasn’t seen the film so it’s not ruined. It may just be a case of there being references that will be easier to understand if you have seen the film. So firstly I will say that I didn’t hate the film, but then again I didn’t particularly like it. The main element I like is the still the idea of it, the idea of crime being legal. As someone who studied sociology at A-Level, a proportion of which was on the subject of crime, I find the idea of all crimes being legal for twelve hours fascinating. It had so many questions going through my head, based on whether it would work, what I would do, what would happen in the town I live in and so on. So it’s thought provoking but in a rather unsettling manner, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but interpret that as you will.

Secondly I think it has proved itself to be a half decent piece of social commentary, based on the themes and messages. From the start there’s clear class struggle, with the rich and powerful even using pronouns to suggest that the purge night is theirs and exists for the benefit of them, and it develops to show that there is inequality and there is exploitation, which almost mirrors our society. Also what I like is how it comments on the brutality of human nature. It shows how the civilised nature of humans can quickly be stripped down to a violent and animalistic core. It shows how humans need a release, because if stress builds up for an entire year it could very well lead to the violent behaviour we see in The Purge, who knows? All I can say is that the writers at least considered what humans have the potential of doing.

However, despite the interesting set up and half well developed subtext there are still huge holes in the film. As much as I wanted to like the film there are problems with it that I simple cannot looks past.

Clichés – It’s a shame because the trailers made it look as thought it could at least have the potential to put a different spin on the usual boring modern horror flick, but then it just ended up falling in to all the usual clichés. So instead of a slightly different experience that you would want to see, we’re instead presented with a film which has all of the usual annoying features that everyone seems to love but I hate, such as: poorly executed fight sequences, annoying main characters, minimal weight in the screenplay, annoying lighting techniques, jump scares produced by sudden loud noises and no genuine scares. The entertainment never starts.

Unengaging characters – by the end of the film it’s safe to say there was only one character left that I only just liked and that’s because he wasn’t a complete idiot. The rest of them are all annoying. You have the family the story is focused on which consists of rich morons who are way too dysfunctional to warrant a sense of pathos, the group of young people who are purging who are equally morons by giving the family demands and then making them harder to meet, the person the hunters are looking for who I kind of have to feel sorry for but in some cases he really doesn’t help himself. Finally you have the ludicrously rich neighbours of largely white middle class suburbans, who are a disgusting concoction of the wife from American Beauty meets Straw Dogs, and they’re pretty much the ones in the film you want to see distressed. The whole ensemble of characters are cretins who I neither liked nor cared about, so I found myself shouting at the screen frequently for the duration of the film. In a horror styled film there has to be a character you like in order to feel engaged and scared. That character does not exist in The Purge. 

Inadequate usage of short running time – the film is very short I have to say, it doesn’t even reach the ninety minutes mark which for a modern film is very short. Now shorter films are not a problem as long as the time is used appropriately. In the case of The Purge the timing is very distorted. The opening to the film is good enough but then there is a very long sequence in the middle in which the family search through their house in the dark, which takes up too much of the running time and as a result leads to the rest of the film feeling really rushed. What follows is a series of action scenes and additions to the storyline but they all happen so quickly that it just doesn’t hold together. It just meant that ten minutes before the end of the film I couldn’t see how it was going to end properly. They did manage to end it but I won’t say that they did it well.

Structurally the film loses its way – this is tangential to the last point, but it feels as though the first half of the film is from one film and the second half of the film is from a different one altogether. It’s like the writers set out to make a film with a clear message and one thread in the plotline, but then halfway they abandoned this to make a Home Alone or Straw Dogs styled film instead. But then again, I can’t say I was ever happy with the first half of the film because structurally it is shambolic. And what I mean by this is that there is a clear and central plotline, I wouldn’t say it’s particularly strong but I won’t challenge its existence, and then they’ve decided to add extra elements around the edges, just little details to the story. In other films this would serve as an enhancement, instead in the case of The Purge what you have is conflicts and other occurrences that make you think “oh come on, really? this is happening now? why?” It doesn’t add depth or anything interesting to the film, it just makes it more annoying because you’re having to witness and deal with things you don’t care about because they simply do not matter.

Confusing villains – I don’t understand the justification for some of their actions. In a film the antagonist usually has an agenda, to make someone’s life more difficult for a particular reason, but in this film the antagonist doesn’t have a reason, so he just does whatever he wants. I understand the character is meant to be scary and so he improvises to create a sense of rebellion through violence, but there are points in which the film is no longer capable of convincing me the characters could be real people.

The film is very one sided (part I) – as I said at the start I like the idea of The Purge because it’s interesting to think about. The problem I have with how it is delivered is that it is one sided; it only shows one type of crime. The concept is described as “all crime is legal” so why does it only show violence? And furthermore why is this specifically people wanting to hurt the homeless? There are more interesting elements to human nature that could have been explored in the film, like greed. There were no scenes of people sat behind a computer committing fraud or attempting stock manipulation to get money and I just just think it shows a lack of discipline by those who made the film. Although upon seeing Michael Bay’s name in the credits under the production team this is hardly surprising. They had an interesting concept that could have explored a range of crimes and behaviours but instead they focused primarily on violence, and I don’t believe for one minute that violence is the appropriate solution to any problem so the film is very boring in that respect. That’s not to say that the opening sequence of various crime occurring to the backing music of ‘Claire De Lune’ wasn’t strangely artistic, but it’s just disappointing to see such an interesting concept go to waste.

One sided (part II) – it’s not just one sided in the sense of the crimes committed, it’s also the fact that the film focuses on the middle to upper class members of society. This made it harder to connect with because I didn’t care about the wealthy people. I didn’t want them to be safe. I’m hoping it’s an issue resolved in The Purge: Anarchy and from the trailers it already looks as though there’s a focus on people in the streets which would be more interesting to see. It was just annoying to have to sit through a film where the main characters are extortionately rich and never stop talking about it, the point where we have to witness them discuss their plans for their house on many occasions which is irritating and vomit inducing enough as it is, but then the film has the nerve to attempt to make me connect with them. Not something I am willing to do I’m afraid.

I could go on further but I think I’ve addressed the main issues I have with the film. It is a very mixed bad because like with any new film I wanted to like it, so the elements I didn’t like only brought me to bitter disappointment. There were too many factors that were weak so it is without remorse or sympathy that I say I did not like The Purge as a film. It was one that caught my eye but I’m afraid it did no maintain it. To ammend the words of Tarantino’s Calvin Candy “gentlemen, you had my curiosity, but you do not have my attention”. 

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