Binge and purge
Michael Bay and company regurgitate a tired plotline
As the last decade has proven, it doesn’t take much to prod a population into accepting major changes to the sociopolitical landscape, even aberrant changes. But the latest product from producer Michael Bay’s homogenized horror factory asks the audience to swallow quite a bit without chasing it with even a spoonful of internal logic.
In The Purge, we’re asked to accept that, nine years in the future, America is taken over by a gratuitous theocratic system that has successfully eliminated the crime rate by encouraging the eponymous Purge, a twelve-hour window that opens one day out of the year for the “haves” to go out and slaughter the have-nots with impunity, a national version of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Politicians, of course, are off limits, but everyone else is fair game.
Of course, the game itself isn’t fair, as the haves who don’t go out and play can afford to bunker down in fortresses for the 12-hour shift. But, aside from some weak protests from a couple of characters, the system seems to be working out for New America. The unemployment rate is down to 1 percent (heh!) and crime is virtually non-existent. Turns out the Repubs were right about stupid homeless people being responsible for all the crime.
Folks hunting other folks for kicks is not exactly a new premise in film. A recent example is The Strangers, in which a masked posse of bored suburban kids terrorizes a rural household. In a lot of ways, The Purge borrows heavily from that movie, offering some promise by expanding the premise to a national level and then putting it back in the box to keep the proceedings contained within the walls of one house. So here we end up with a masked posse of bored rich kids terrorizing a bunkered estate in a gated community. Way to keep thinking outside that box, Michael Bay.
The Purge is also stocked with characters you’d expect in this kind of thing. Ethan Hawke stars as the skeevy breadwinner who has built up a tidy nest-egg from selling iffy security systems in anticipation of the annual event, and Lena Headey is his lovely wife, who goes about cooking dinner in four-inch heels so that the camera can sneak up and ogle her legs. The rebellious daughter (Adelaide Kane) dresses like a Catholic schoolgirl fresh off the stripper pole, and the ubiquitous creepy son (Max Burkholder) lets in some homeless black dude who’s being stalked by masked preppies, who are led by a scenery-chewing snob who acts like he’s auditioning for the lead in the stage version of Funny Games. The movie exists only to let the intruders crash the gates so people can go about plodding through dark hallways, stalking and killing other people until the end credits.
There’s not a lot of ambiguity going on here. The allegorical aspects are only sketched out enough to rationalize the body count, and it doesn’t even effectively play off of the so-called twist late in the game. All in all, it’s about as compelling as a made-for-TV movie.