7:50 AM – It’s official: the gnats and mosquitos in Texas are racist. LT and I were less than two feet apart all night, but only one of us, in lieu of sleep, swatted and scratched bites and cursed God for allowing even such tiny demons into the material world. And this morning LT runs the oppressive heat while I haggardly hover over keys and coffee, my arms and neck swollen in patterns that read “your wings don’t impress me” to braille fingertips. If the South rises again, let it first slay the state bird.
“I feel like I can’t trust anybody.” – LT, at the grocery store after watching The Purge
Half-social allegory, half home invasion thriller, The Purge attempts to use thriller formula to make an intelligent point – but ultimately only ends up sinking in numbing violence and tired cliches.
The wife and I took in a matinee showing of The Purge yesterday afternoon, and LT’s opinion sides closer to the reviewers’ consensus than mine did. Of course, LT doesn’t like horror movies, and for all it’s billing as a “gritty thriller” The Purge is a straight-up horror flick. For reviewers, and my wife, the film’s value stops at what feels like a gratuitous use of violence.
And The Purge is grotesquely violent, in droves, and our nation has experienced a spree of real life violence – particularly involving family and children – over the past few years that vilifies cinematic violence and raises red flags about “desensitization” of such violence. In fact, the makers of the most recent Texas Chainsaw film cut the word “Massacre” from the title in response to concerns about cinematic depictions of violence. What few people may realize is that right now – after such a bloody national season – is precisely the time for horror films to rise. Now is the time to hold violence up the light and ask questions about it. Those questions are not fun questions to ask or answer, but they may be necessary to a dialogue hoping to rid the landscape of violence. Some have even argued a great benefit of horror cinema is that it achieves what The Purge illustrates: our own blood-lust purged through art. I can’t speak to that personally – not that I would openly admit to such a thing even if I could.
[Granted, this may appear a backwards way to approach an issue – creating a semblance of the very thing we hope to rid from ourselves – but so art goes. Some like to approach the issue from the front door and some from the back. Simple as that.]
In the 2022 America of The Purge, the United States is run by the New Founding Fathers. If America’s original Founding Fathers built this nation on Christian principles (debatable), the New Founding Fathers have swung the other direction and opened the gate to Satan himself, issuing in his inevitable reign upon the earth. No longer does America protect the innate good in man, but rather she glorifies innate evil. “Release the beast” rings the new national mantra, as for twelve hours once a year the nation “purges” their evil desires, obeying Aleister Crowley’s Satanic creed “Do what thou wilt.” For this one night all evil is lawful, including murder, and the greater the rioting, the higher the body count by morning, the more successful the Purge. After all, this is a new America with less violence, higher employment, and a growing economy.
Of course, as we soon learn through Ethan Hawke’s character, the Purge is based more on appearances than actuality. If once a year the bottom layer of humanity is scraped away – the homeless and the poor and the disabled and those pesky veterans panhandling for cash and these riffraff unable to defend themselves – then there is less poverty, less joblessness, less violence born of such aggravation. But in which direction would the violence fly? Who leads the battlecry for a better society: the rich or the poor? Who has the most to protect and the most at stake? And here begins the commentary.
In my opinion, The Purge works for one reason: the filmmakers toss a big mess on the table and then leave the audience to do what audiences are meant to do, which is go out for coffee after the fact and ask each other, “What the hell did we just watch?”
Because its questions are not easily answered, and because aspects of the story are left completely unattended, I thought the film was a great success. But this is precisely why the critics panned The Purge. Some feel that much violence needs to be wrapped up neatly. That many questions need to be answered. Then again, had filmmakers cleaned up those messes, critics would have panned The Purge for spoon feeding its audience a political agenda. You just can’t please those goats.
The apostle Paul asks and then answers his own query in Romans 6, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” This was the scripture rolling through my mind throughout the entire film. But, like The Purge, I won’t say why or to what conclusion I arrived in response. If you see The Purge, get in touch with me. We’ll do what audiences are meant to do.
Ultimate score: 3.5 pinball machine face plants out of 5.