Viking Night: The Purge
By Bruce Hall
October 6, 2016
I like a film that leaves me deep in thought for a half hour after it ends. I like approaching a film with relative ambivalence, only to be unexpectedly drawn in by the story, and pleasantly surprised by the finished product. I like getting more than I bargained for. I like knowing that Ethan Hawke is still alive and apparently doing well. I like my dystopian thrills with a distinctive edge.
I guess what I’m saying is, I liked The Purge. Quite a bit, actually. It’s a like with reservations, of course. I had a chance to review it back in 2013 when it opened the Stanley Film Festival. I couldn’t fit it in, but I won’t lie. The premise sounded silly and gratuitous, even for a horror film festival. We’re talking about an environment where Satan somehow comes up literally once every half hour.
But I’m the kind of guy who’s happy to give a movie credit for what it attempts rather than what it achieves - provided the effort is on screen. It’s why I like Tron. It’s why I like John Carpenter. And, it’s why I like The Purge. That’s not a direct comparison, of course. There’s just something inspiring about watching someone swing for the fence, and get to home plate just a hair too late. Not quite a champion, but still better than you - and yet still somehow relatable.
The Purge is a bit like that. It has some very compelling philosophical aspirations, which is the part that had me scratching a hole in my chin after the credits finished. And it has some fundamental flaws that weaken it, but without them there would be no story. I’m leaning toward this being a form of storytelling bias. I just don’t like the way the narrative is presented, but that that doesn’t make it “wrong”...right? Then again, I’ve written several hundred words and haven’t said a damn thing about what I saw.
Like I said, The Purge is kind of like that.
“The Purge” refers to an annual tradition practiced in Future America, circa 2022. After the complete social and economic collapse of American culture, a group of politicians called the New Founding Fathers takes control, and institutes an annual “celebration” called Purge Night. For 12 hours, any and all crimes are forgiven (actually, there are a few rules). Police and other emergency responders take the night off, and chaos is allowed to run rampant. Afterward, it’s straight back to business as usual.
For 364 and ½ days a year, you go to work, pay your taxes and stay out of trouble. But on Purge Night, if you want to go next door, obliterate your neighbor with a meat cleaver and have sex with his refrigerator, it’s one hundred percent A-OK. The idea is that by giving everyone a half-day to live like Rock Star/Serial Killers, they will be more inclined to behave the rest of the year. Naturally it works, and the crime rate hovers at about one percent. This is because The Purge takes place on a planet that’s about as much like our world as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.