Jun 10 2013 3:00pm

For The Next 12 Hours, All Low-Budget Dystopia Thrillers Are Legal: The Purge

The Purge

The Purge is set in a very near-future America where, under only cursorily explained circumstances, a new government has come to power on the promise of reducing crime and unemployment. And lo, they succeed! Unemployment is at 1%, crime practically a memory. Their solution suggests that they (or at least the movie’s writer-director, James DeMonaco) are Star Trek fans: once a year, for 12 hours, all crime is legal, including murder, the idea being that all of society’s collective aggressions are, per the title, purged.

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It’s an intriguing scenario, but one the movie doesn’t get into in any depth, as the story’s focus is on one family’s attempt to get through the Purge, and takes place almost entirely in their house. Paterfamilias Ethan Hawke makes his (quite substantial) living selling high-end home security systems to well-to-do suburbanites so that they can—if they don’t choose to go out killing people—stay home safely.

On the home front, Lena Headey (having left Cersei Lannister’s drunken power politics in Westeros along with the blonde wig) deals with passive-aggressive neighbors and two children, teenage daughter Zoey (whose older boyfriend meets with disapproval from mom and dad) and preteen son Charlie, a sensitive boy who builds cool robots and questions the moral right of the Purge. The Stepford aspect of their neighborhood, which feeds Hawke’s complete assurance that nothing can go wrong, is a virtual guarantee that something will. And, inevitably, it does.

Ethan Hawke is oddly perfect in this, as a guy desperately trying to convince himself and everyone around him that things are somehow not what they are. He still seems, with all his ineffable (and effable) Ethan Hawke-ness, to be a little too young and slight to be king of the suburbs with teenage kids. But his seeming like “a young 42” suits his character here just right. Lena Headey’s role in the proceedings is a little difficult to talk about in too much detail without giving away plot details, but suffice to say her final scene is quite satisfying.

Whether, on the whole, The Purge ends up seeming like an intriguing premise wasted on a home-invasion thriller or a home-invasion thriller with a neat high concept is going to vary depending on expectations. For my part, I went in with as few expectations as someone who’d spent the previous couple weeks making every possible “for the next 12 hours, [x] is legal” joke could have, and personally found it to fall into the “home-invasion thriller with a neat high concept” category. Its shifts in tone are handled smoothly by relative novice director DeMonaco (who is, though, a veteran screenwriter), and its various narrative twists and turns provide enough genuine surprises to at least partially outweigh the obvious stuff.

Nothing is terribly subtle in The Purge, in particular its extremely pointed commentary about class and gun culture. Hawke’s high-end home security system proves to have “not been tested for worst-case scenarios,” because his principal concern was not the quality of the systems he sold, but the money he made from selling them. The new additions he had built on his house with that money arouses the envy of the neighbors. Status, and competition for it, is all.

As neatly as The Purge works as a thriller, the world implied by “the New Founding Fathers,” the swiftness of their rise to power, and the totally-different-yet-pretty-much-the-same society that annually declares open season on the powerless classes for the sake of keeping unemployment down (and yet still has homeless military veterans) is practically begging for sequels. This one is nothing great, but is just interesting enough, and just pointed enough about making its (pretty graphic) violence tough to watch rather than entertaining, to feel worth exploring in greater detail. I’m interested in seeing a sequel, whether with the same cast or not, where we find out a little more about this world. Which is something I never thought I’d say when making all those “for the next 12 hours” jokes.

Danny Bowes is a New York City-based film critic and blogger.

Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
When I first saw the previews, I was very disturbed by this movie, but the commentary I've seen about it, has helped me change my mind.

Ethan Hawke even drew a (tasteful) comparison between the movie's subject matter and the Trayvon Martin case, which I thought was spot on, IMO.
2. sofrina
never again. ever. i almost walked out and regret not having done so. it wasn't just violent (which i tend to like), it was stupid and tedious. you have a point about the vague backstory. a novelization could flesh that out effectively. it was like a full-on assault on the audience.
3. Literally Jen
Can you let me know if there is any violence against animals in this film? I want to see it because the premise intrigues me, but after the remake of The Hills Have Eyes (and bawling uncontrollably for about 30 minutes after the movie ends) I can't watch movies with any animal violence.
4. RobertX
Human nature doesn't work that way. I can suspend reality but to deny the very nature of the human condition is too much. If you think the premise out, you will see why I cannot possibly work.
5. sofrina
@3 - no animal violence at all
Risha Jorgensen
6. RishaBree
@Literally Jen - This site may be relevent to your interests.
Danny Bowes
7. DannyBowes
That's an excellent resource, RishaBree.
8. a1ay
I can't watch movies with any animal violence.

But human violence is OK though? I am reminded of all the criticism of Game of Thrones - a series that, remember, has on-screen slavery, beheadings, torture, people being killed with molten gold, impalings, beatings, crushing, mutilation, poisoning, stabbing, shooting, people burning to death, dismemberment, and small children being pushed out of windows - that made it quite clear that the really unacceptable thing was all the female nudity.
Risha Jorgensen
9. RishaBree
@a1ay - Yes, there's a difference. There are lots of people who can't handle animal injury (why do you think I knew about that website?), just like there are plenty of people who don't blink at animal death but will cry at the sight of human blood onscreen, or can watch adults get dismembered but not a child getting a scratch, or can watch a bloodbath from a gun but not a finger getting chopped off. Or, for that matter, can watch a slow, lingering death from cancer in a serious drama but not a discussion about infidelity or a mention of an offscreen abortion. We all have our inividual limits.
Chris Nelly
10. Aeryl
@8, Thing you are missing in that debate, is that the violence AND nudity should serve a purpose, and mostly in GOT, the violence does, the nudity not so much.
11. a1ay
9: it's a real timesink (entertaining though) to go through that website and see what counts as an animal for their purposes. Aliens (in Aliens)? No. Rats? Sometimes; pet rats (The Abyss) yes, sewer rats (The Blob) no. Dogs yes, obviously, even when mutated into hideous evil tentacled zombie dogs (Resident Evil) or "vampire Pomeranians" (Blade). Werewolves, even in dog form, don't count (Dog Soldiers). Dead chickens count (Django Unchained) as long as they aren't cooked...

10: the nudity serves exactly the same purpose as the violence: it entertains the audience.
Deana Whitney
12. Braid_Tug
And see, I saw the previews and was more bothered by the seeming lynch mob aspect.
Unless there are mix of ethnic groups represented in the mob that comes to the house to kill the random black guy they show shouting for help.

Also over thought it, because I would hope there is an age limit on the allowances. Because child molestation being legal for 12 hours? Hell NO!

Re: Animal Violence, I think most people are more bothered by it, because animals are so helpless. Just like we don’t like to see children or babies hurt in our entrainment.

Having not seen the movie, and not planning to, does Lena H. get to kill her husband in this show too? Perfect revenge for being a dick. Just like Robert.
Chris Nelly
13. Aeryl
@11, It can also serve the story. The violence does mostly, the nudity not so much.
14. sofrina
@12 - it's not a lynch mob, it's a hunting party

@9 - precisely my issue with this movie. it was on the outside of my boundaries.
j p
15. sps49
The only limit on crimes stated is one on killing high government officials. I was wondering about normally illegal waste dumping, obtaining clips with a capacity >10, sedition, and coercing vulnerable seniors into illegally transferring their homes. WOuld kidnapping be ok if you returned or killed the victim before 12 hours?

And I think Hawke's character was concerned about the security system quality; he uses the same system on his family's home. But as he pointed out to his wife, armor always loses eventually. (And it apparently did not occur to anyone to use a more active defense like sniping from the upper windows.)

I missed the Trayvon Martin reference. Did someone compare him to Oscar Grant?

GoT? Has female nudity because lots of viewers like it. The audience for male nudity is much smaller.
Chris Nelly
16. Aeryl
It's not in the movie, it's the press Hawke did for the movie. He compared the homeless man that his family protects, which sparks the events of the movie, to Trayvon, saying that the society in the movie has written people off as less than, similar to how people are to Trayvon Martin.

The show has nudity, because the books have lots of sensible nudity in them. The show has just taken it to a ridiculous level, in an attempt to pander to the lowest common denominator. Also, a huge portion of the GOT fandom is women. The only people in know in RL who watch it, are women, aside from my BF. None of their husbands or BFs watch it, only women. The audience for male nudity is a lot larger than you think.

But that is beside the point. More male nudity is not the solution to GoT's problem, the solution is to only show nudity that advances the story, not for objectification/tittillation. Something they've gotten better at this year, compared to previous ones.
17. sofrina
@15 - i don't think they could shoot from the upper windows. looked like the shields all raised/lowered as one. and they were surrounded and vastly outnumbered/outgunned.
j p
18. sps49
Forgot to mention; Star Trek as the source occurred to me the first time I heard the radio spot.

Scary movies seem less scary than in the past, is this just me? The trailers before this movie showed several, maybe half looked like they might be scary.

@16- Thank you.
And the undressed ladies are featured because they bring a lot of viewers while driving away few; male nudity brings fewer and pushes away many. Those that like females are more into appearance than those who like males. Look at magazine covers and check out which isues sell more with whom on the cover.

@17- Under that kind of threat, I would find the individual activators (electric motor, hydarulics, whatever lock is catching) and at a minimum (shooting from good cover) make the besiegers keep to cover, interfere with their "siege engines", and hopefully hold them off until 7. Or 6,, or whatever the time. Anything is preferable to just allowing them the initiative, even realeasing all the barriers if necessary.

I don't want to put too much thought into the scenario, though. :)
Chris Nelly
19. Aeryl
@18, That's a ludicrous thought, that the nudity draws viewers. The books were bestsellers before the show was ever considered being filmed(GRRM was trying to make it unfilmable). We never SAW the naked people, but they still sold. It's popular with viewers, a lot more of them women than believed, because IT'S A GOOD STORY.

And, I pointed out the other day, plenty of movies have beefcake for women. But we STILL GO SEE movies that don't have it. Men are the same, they really really are. The idea that they are not, that they are more "visual", that their baser desires must be catered to, are sexist ideas, held over from patriarchal ideas from men and women that have changed over time, to ensure women don't achieve equality. For example, in Victorian times, so many restrictions were put on women, because it was believed they were lusty and out of control, and if they saw naked men they would accost and grope them, exactly the same things the "modesty/purity" movements tell us about men NOW. And note that the response to both those disparate beliefs, is to put restrictions on women. It was BS then, and it's BS now.

This "just so" idea about WHY we HAVE to objectify women to cater to the desires of men, is crap. If many men expect to have their desires catered to in all their media, it's because we as a society have taught them they are entitled to that gratification, and every time that idea is pushed back, we're always told, that it HAS to be that way or men won't watch it. And I say that, a) people who believe that are the ones that really hate men and b) if it's true, men need to grow the fuck up.
Risha Jorgensen
20. RishaBree
@19 - Thank you. Also, I found the "drive away many" comment fairly distasteful. I'm assuming that they mean that men will be afraid that they'll be considered gay and/or unmasculine if they watch a show that has the occasional naked guy in midst of all the violence and female nudity. Which, seriously?
21. Halibulu
Can anyone tell me if there is rape in this movie? That's the one thing I can't stomach to see. Murders and torture are all cringe worthy, but I guess some part of me acknowledges that it isn't real and so I can see it mostly just fine, but rape... Jesus, seeing that sh*t sticks with me and I would rather not pay money for that.
Danny Bowes
22. DannyBowes
@21 There is not, and definitely for the best.
j p
23. sps49
Aeryl @19- Of course the attractive, undressed women draw viewers. Not all viewers, of course, but each additional viewer adds to the show's commercial success. But it can't be the only element, otherwise HBO would get lazy and show less expensive Playboy or MetArt or some such 24-7. Story, production, acting, et cetera, are essential.

And beefcake for women is not equivalent. Shirtless guys with washboard abs appear popular, but full frontal is not. I have heard women describe penises as "gross" (often accompanied with giggles), but being grossed out by boobs is much less common.

And I can't speak for others, but I do not "expect to have desires catered to in all media". But it is an appreciated bonus.

RishaBree @20- I don't think anyone is afraid of how others will see them if they watch something with free willys; an extreme example is mainstream hardcore porn. But the naked men are tolerated, barely; not enjoyed.

Again- take a look at the magazines in the checkout line. I may be wrong about why, but the overwhelming majority, whether targeting men, women, or both, feature attractive females on their covers.

Halibulu @21- there is a threat implied, but the intended victim is not in the scene.
Risha Jorgensen
24. RishaBree
@23 - You apparently need a better set of friends, male and female. I have met plenty of people with the attitudes you describe, but they were both in the minority and to the one extremely young. Most people will grow out of that well before their mid-20s.
Pernilla Leijonhufvud
25. Therru
The discussion makes me think of another HBO show with lots of nudity, but in that case, the guys strip off as well -- True Blood. Does that drive away lots of viewers? I, conversely, think a lot of viewers are extremely gratified by getting to see Alexander Skarsgård with his pants off. :)

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