Content warning: rape, violence
It’s been a while since I’ve written one of my “bad movies with potentially interesting ideas” reviews. With that in mind, and with Netflix offering some promising candidates, I decided to try out The Purge. I’d seen a trailer some years ago that promised a truly craptacular experience, and given that the film was a modest 85 minutes long, it at least wouldn’t drag on.
The Purge takes place in a future America where the totalitarian New Founding Fathers have instigated an annual overnight event – the titular Purge – during which all crime is legal and people can commit whatever violent acts they desire. The stated ideology behind this is that humans must have an outlet for their naturally violent urges, and if they can fill their boots during The Purge, they will be peaceful and law abiding for the rest of the year. In fact, The Purge is actually a form of population control, in which rich white people get free rein to peck off all those pesky poor people and ethnic minorities.
Before we delve further into the world-building, let’s briefly discuss the movie at hand. The Purge is essentially a tedious, by-the-numbers home invasion thriller, starring a typical Hollywood family of high-flying dad, mum, teenaged daughter with dubious boyfriend, and creepy young son whose weird remote controlled doll comes in handy later on. Said family is sitting pretty in their barricaded house during The Purge, but when they rescue a black man from being Purged, they incur the wrath of a band of entitled rich white Purgers. What follows is some dimly lit scenes of people getting shot and otherwise attacked, before The Purge ends and a new day dawns. It’s boring stuff, and it’s inexplicable to me how it spawned several spin-off movies and a TV series.
I’m not going to subject myself to the rest of The Purge media in the hopes of gleaning any further details about the lore of the franchise, so instead we’ll examine what’s in front of us. How would The Purge – twelve hours per year when crime is allowed – work in practice? What kind of crimes would actually be committed?
First off, since the date and time of The Purge is well known, we can assume that anyone with the means to do so is going to be well prepared – indeed, one thing we see in the film is that all the rich white people have bought expensive home security systems. We can also assume that larger companies will have housed all their goods in secure warehouses and hired private security firms.
Whilst The Purge as depicted onscreen seems to be about carrying out acts of violence, presumably all white collar crime is also legal during this time. What kind of fraud, embezzlement or cybercrime could one carry out during The Purge? If an insider made off with all the funds from their company during The Purge, would they be free from prosecution? Would they even be able to use the money they stole to protect themselves from any retribution? Would said company be allowed to take any action against the thief? At the very least, I guess they could try to do so during the next Purge, when once again anything goes.
For crimes involving long-term turnover or embezzlement of assets, a single twelve-hour window may not be enough. It’s possible that crimes such as money laundering just carry on as they would in a non-Purge world.
As mentioned above, those with the assets to do so will be protecting both their physical goods and their virtual assets. What about the small business owner, however? If the shop down the road sells flatscreen TVs and Xboxes, can you just smash a window and take one? Well, technically yes, but again it’s not going to be straightforward.
Presumably said small business owner will be well aware that potential thieves will be on the streets during The Purge, and will take precautions. If they can’t afford to hire security or move their goods to a warehouse, they might try to defend their premises in person. Remember, it’s allowed and even encouraged for them to attack, disable or even kill any potential thieves. It’s quite possible that they themselves could be overwhelmed or even killed, but that may not stop them from standing guard.
And even if you do get away with that 52” plasma screen, there’s no guarantee that next year a grudge-holding business owner doesn’t decide to come round and break your legs in retaliation. Of course, if you’re a rich white person you can probably hire a group of friends to beat up the shop owner, steal whatever you want, and then hightail back to your secure home to enjoy the spoils. Not that you need to, of course, because you could easily afford to buy all those goods legitimately, but the kinds of people depicted in The Purge would probably just steal for the fun of it.
Fortunately we don’t see this depicted in the first film, but you just know that this is one of the key features of The Purge. All of those horny, entitled men are going to be forcing themselves on women (and possibly other men as well), secure in the knowledge that they can get away with it for this one night of the year. Unfortunately, anyone who can’t afford a fancy security system is going to be at risk.
Physical violence, manslaughter and homicide
Whichever way you slice it, people will be getting hurt and killed during The Purge. The government has basically whipped up class warfare to genocidal levels – rich white people can either hole up behind security systems, or purchase expensive equipment with which to hunt poor people and ethnic minorities. It’s tasteless and horrific, and yet if you look at the state of the world today with your most pessimistic eyes, it doesn’t seem as farfetched as it ought to be.
Alongside this, you also have people with a specific axe to grind, such as one guy who says he’s going to use The Purge to kill his boss. Now, I have in the past worked for a boss I really didn’t get on with, but even if the legal opportunity to kill him had arisen, I wouldn’t have taken it. I’d like to think that most of us wouldn’t.
The Purge is a film that clearly thinks it’s much cleverer than it actually is – far from being an exploration of a society gone horribly wrong, it’s just a poor quality home invasion thriller. Perhaps the numerous spin-offs offer a smarter and more nuanced analysis of the franchise’s lore, but somehow I doubt it.