I love seeing movies in theaters. Love it. I love the ritual of going to the movies in the same way some people love drinking their morning coffee – the product doesn’t even have to be good for me to enjoy it. If I’ve got popcorn and an ICEE and a giant screen in my face, I will have a great time. My brothers and my dad and I saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, to date the worst movie I have ever seen in my entire life, in a theater, and the shock of how horrible the movie was and that it had still made it to theaters made the experience better, not worse. Oh my God, it was terrible – and oh so good.
My husband, on the other hand, has no appreciation for such joys. He does not suffer shitty movies quietly. If he’s paying $12 to sit in a dark room with a bunch of loud strangers, he better be watching the best movie he’s ever seen. Unfortunately, that happens very rarely for him. He went with me to see Before Midnight because we knew it was going to be amazing.
He refused to see Ethan Hawke’s other current box office success, The Purge, because we knew it was going to be awful.
I enlisted the company of my friend J, who had already endured both Side Effects and Disconnect, two supremely depressing and upsetting movies, with me this year. We gleefully skipped off to see The Purge, expecting the worst.
And we got it. Holy canoli.
The premise: it’s 2022, and all crime in the United States has been eradicated, except for during the annual twelve-hour Purge, when all crime is legal and all emergency services are suspended. Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey are the Sandins, a wealthy, white couple who have made a fortune selling sleek, modern security systems to their neighbors to protect them during this one night of mayhem. The Sandins fully support the mission of the Purge, which purportedly helps cleanse the nation’s criminal impulses, until The Purge bleeds out of the poverty-stricken inner city streets and comes to them.
The movie is an obvious indictment of white privilege. It’s main characters are, for the most part, rich white people who blindly support unchecked violence as long as it is happening to other people (and because it has helped them build an addition on their already massive McMansion in a gorgeous gated community). They become remarkably less supportive of The Purge after their son, the movie’s only actual human being and therefore its moral compass, allows an injured black man into their house after he screams for help while being pursued by a pack of rabid, psychopathic RKOI, who believe it is their right to murder this man, because he is homeless and “filthy.” While this theme is played out with zero subtlety whatsoever (see: the homeless black man is wearing dog tags and an Army green coat), it could have made for a compelling story about basic humanity. However, that’s not the way this cookie crumbled.
My husband didn’t want to see the movie because he thought the “annual Purge” conceit was ridiculous, which is admittedly is. However, for me, the most upsetting thing about The Purge isn’t its ludicrous plot – it’s the fact that the premise is founded on an unsettling, false “universal” that given the chance, we’d all really love to kill someone. Instead of maybe exploring why we tend to see certain people as fundamentally “other” (and therefore less deserving of happiness, safety, and ultimately, life), the movie chose to focus its attention on its belief that the only thing keeping most people from murdering their neighbors is the fact that murder is against the law. The removal of this prohibition, The Purge wants you to believe, would mean that everyone everywhere would enjoy a good ol’ murder. Your mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers would put on their camo and “go hunting” – for people. Or, if they weren’t feeling particularly rage-y that year, they’d just pull up a chair and watch live feeds of crimes happening around the world. So gross.
I know it’s unrealistic to expect a horror movie to make intelligent commentary on human nature or class warfare. However, it is so obvious that this is what The Purge is trying to do that it is so aggravating that is hasn’t done it well (or really all that thoughtfully at all). The movie is at once both self-obsessed and totally missing the point.
The Purge‘s one high note? This dude is pretty terrifying: