This Schlocktober, Comics Bulletin will be exploring the world of horror cinema, featuring thirty one notable films released between Halloween 2012 and Halloween 2013. Next up is director/writer James DeMonaco‘s The Purge.
Like Dark Skies, The Purge is another film that dresses up in Science Fiction drag, but at its heart is really a fairly derivative home invasion horror film that is redeemed by quality performances and a firm directorial vision. It’s also another very low budget feature (by studio standards) that got mixed/negative reviews but exploded at the box office, bringing in a stunning $87 million worldwide.
On a three million dollar investment.
That sound you just heard was my jaw hitting the floor.
Anyway, set in the year 2022, DeMonaco’s script posits that the new American government has solved all of society’s woes by initiating The Purge, an annual 12-hour period where all criminal activity, up to an including murder and rape, is legal. Ethan Hawke (who also starred in DeMonaco’s directorial debut Little New York) plays James Sandin, a home security salesman who has profited immensely from the Purge, to the envy of his neighborhood. Lena Headey plays his wife, Mary, a character with little to no identifiable features beyond being wife and mother – until the end of the film.
All in all, The Purge is a problematic film, wearing its politics on its sleeve and embracing nearly every cliché imaginable with the standard home invasion scenario. And yet, it still manages to entertain. Mostly, I’d attribute that to the performances of Hawke and Headley, both of whom are able to believably portray the transitions from average parents to willing-to-kill defenders of their family.
Another strength of the film is just in the basic concept and the questions it raises about morality and the behavioral choices we make. This echoes a similar theme in Kiss of the Damned, where civilization and civilized behavior is a constant struggle between the urge to violence and the artificial moral laws established to restrain us. At least in Kiss of the Damned, the murderous vampires actually feel guilty about their violence.
The roving bands of murderers in The Purge don’t have that emotional depth, as the Purge participants take on a religious fervor and sense of entitlement. Only the Sandin family ever expresses anything close to guilt or a morality that isn’t defined by fear of punishment. In the world of The Purge, we are all either animals or victims, and while that makes for an engaging horror film, it also essentially side-steps the real questions about morality and violence that underlie its political message.
Which means that the film lives or dies based on its effectiveness as a survival horror film (subsection: home invasion), and as such it’s not bad. It doesn’t break any new ground, but it has a few good scares, some creepy masked killers, and a fairly bleak outlook when everything’s said and done.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.