With The Purge: Election Year slashing it’s way into cinemas, it’s time to look back on the film that started it all.
Back in 2013 James DeMonaco, the man who wrote The Negotiator, brought us his second directorial effort and first under the rising Blumhouse Productions company, The Purge. Set in a dystopian future of 2022, the New Founding Fathers of America in the face of rampant poverty and crime have created a civic holiday known as ‘The Purge’. During this holiday all crime including murder is legalised for a 12 hour period from 7:00pm to 7:00am. The first Purge occurred in 2018, and due to it’s success (for those who aren’t victims) has become a yearly tradition.
Our film takes place during the fourth annual Purge in 2022, and follows James (Ethan Hawke) and Mary Sandin (Lena Headey) and their two children Zoey and Charlie as they prepare to spend the night locked in their house, safe from the event itself. Unfortunately the night does not go to plan, Charlie dismayed by the holiday lets in a hurt stranger crying for help, Zoey’s boyfriend sneaks into the house to kill her dad, and the psychotic young group hunting for the stranger threaten to kill the whole family if they don’t turn over the man they let in the house. Torn between their morality and protecting the family, James and Mary do whatever they can to make sure the family survives the night.
The first time I watched The Purge I thought it was a good little taut thriller, but more importantly the entire film wasn’t just about a home invasion where invaders tried to kill the occupants with little rhyme or reason. Those types of films are not only gruelling to watch, but they’re overdone, usually unpleasant, and rarely good. You’re Next being one of the rare modern films that tackles the subgenre and is great. Now when re-viewing The Purge, because we’ve already know the events of the film like who dies and who survives, it does loose some of the sheen of being a thriller. The excitement that comes from the mystery of how this family will survive the night is no longer there. However that being said because this is not a straightforward home invasion thriller, there is more to enjoy when going back and watching the film again. Also despite how horrific the event of ‘The Purge’ is, and the numerous ways people might die, the film isn’t as explicit in its violence as many of its horror counterparts are. For example, I don’t know why anybody would go back and watch exploitation flicks like I Spit on Your Grave or The Last House on the Left a second time because they’re not very nice films that aren’t playful with their violence like a Friday the 13th might be. Now The Purge isn’t playful either, and it tackles some very dark subject matter but apart from the odd axe attack it refrains from being exploitative and unnecessarily graphic in it’s depictions, making the choice to watch it again a little easier.
The idea of an event such as ‘The Purge’ itself offers up so many exciting possibilities for story arcs and plot lines, admittedly some themes are merely teased in this film as it doesn’t reach it’s full potential, but that is what sequels are for, to expand on the ideas and plans of the original! If The Purge were to be a TV series (which I personally think would make a great show) we’d likely be praising it’s dystopian world building. But because the first film has a sole focus on one family as they attempt to survive the night, in an 85 minute film, there is little opportunity to expand further on the inner workings of ‘The Purge’. However the prevalent use of guns in the film has a lot to say about the gun culture of America, and this is opened up a little more in the action packed sequel The Purge: Anarchy.
As with any film starring Ethan Hawke, his acting never gets old as he continues to be one of the best actors of his generation tackling a variety of roles in big and small films. Lena Headey also proves her mettle as a solid performer, playing a character the complete opposite of her Game of Thrones role as Cersei Lannister with ease. If you liked The Purge the first time round you’ll likely enjoy it again, but the thrill of the mystery of unfolding events will is no longer there. However unlike some other disposable horror/thrillers, the dystopian future that the film is set in provides enough intrigue to look back on and take in, providing plenty opportunities to imagine what comes next or even what came before.