The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

July 14, 2013

The Purge: An Unexpected Intelligent Horror Film

By Roger Thomas
CNHI

Sunday, July 14, 2013 — I had seen the previews for “The Purge” and I understood the basic premise before I went into the theater. The film is set in 2022. Crime and poverty are basically nonexistent. However, this goal has been achieved because there is now a government sanctioned “purge” every year on the same night. For 12 hours, from 7 p.m.-7 a.m. there are no laws. Anyone can do anything to anyone else, and no one is accountable for his actions. Nice plot device to create a situation where people are brutally murdered like in most low budget, no plot, slasher films.  

Make no mistake, there are some brutal murders in this film. But they only happen in the last 30 minutes of a 90-minute film. What comes before the violence is what makes “The Purge” special; certainly a film worth watching.

And a child shall lead them. “The Purge” focuses on one family of four who has a massive house in a gated exclusive community. “The Purge” has always been something they basically ignored. The husband sells security systems and their home is locked down before “The Purge” begins. Problems arouse however when the 12-year-old son begins to question the justification of “The Purge” and wonders why his parents do not participate in it or speak out against it.

To say more would ruin the plot. But suffice it to say, the moral questions posed and the actions considered in this film are stunning.Few films have the courage to pose these types of dilemmas for the characters. Heroes are not supposed to be faced with moral ambiguity, are they?I had no idea this “horror” film (which is really scary in certain parts) would be so incredibly philosophical. As I always write, give me a movie with ideas, and I am happy. “The Purge” bulges with ideas, questions and debates.  

It is easy to watch the film and say, “Well, that would never really happen!” It does seem doubtful that a world of casual callousness where people throw neighborhood parties in honor of “The Purge” could ever exist. But as a society that is always in debate about how much we should assist one another, especially the least fortunate, at some point is it not a life and death issue? How much is cut from a budget before lives are threatened? In “The Purge,” poverty is almost non-existent because it is brutally eradicated every 12 months.  

“The Purge” is depicted as a moral evil in the film. However, silence and inaction are also condemned. The point is not whether any society would approach to the extreme of the film;  rather how many steps closer could we get if we follow a philosophy of every man for himself, every family for themselves.

Years ago I had an ethics professor who said he used to pick up hitchhikers until he had a wife and children. Once they came along, he no longer felt he was free to put his life at risk to help another in that way. Some of the characters in “The Purge” are faced with similar options. But the scale is much larger. The parents in this story are not offering a ride to a stranger, they are offering life, at the risk of their own and their children’s.

“The Purge” clearly shows a world where self reigns supreme and selflessness has been lost from the human psychic, at least in many. In our real world, that would not be progress but rather a return to our primitive nature that ultimately would usher in our destruction.

“The Purge” stumbles slightly at the end, but overall, it is a fascinating frightening journey and film worthy of stellar post-viewing conversations. 

Roger Thomas reviews films for The Stanly News & Press and thesnaponline.com