There has been a lot of talk recently that, thanks to the election, we’ve reached the point where our society has become the movie Idiocracy. It’s sad and it’s funny and it’s uncomfortable and it’s something so horrible that we cannot let the film’s truth actually become our reality.
In this (recent) conversation of life imitating absurd films that parody reality in relationship to our current election, something has been left out: the movie The Purge. When the movie came out three years ago, it was given a below mediocre reception and has been the basis for many funny parodies. The film lives on as yet another horror film based in fantasy with a truly ridiculous premise.
WARNING: there are some spoilers below. You are warned.
And that premise is? In a future or alternate America where crime is very low but the division of class is widening, a group of new founding fathers are to thank for making the country safer and better. How is that? Through purging, a twelve hour period a year where everyone in the country can use any weapons they want (Except for nuclear bombs or any such weapons of mass destruction.) to take out their aggression and anger by killing people. This movie sounds dumb. It sounds ridiculous and stupid and fucking silly.
But it’s handled with a lot of poise and grace, coming off like a new Cronenberg film instead of a Blumbouse creation. As a horror fan, I had avoided it because of the bad press but, thanks to my horror BFF Ross, I was urged to watch. And I did. And I was pleasantly, horribly impressed because, like Idiocracy, the movie is an example of what can happen when we give power to people who have a “No rules, just right!” attitude and glorify the mentality that certain people are disposable. The central premise of the movie is that, at a certain point, the government is cool with you killing people. Is that happening now? Umm…yes? Maybe? It’s not that the guns are the problem in this film: it’s the laxness, the OKness of the world, where shooting someone up time-to-time is no biggie. That’s the horror.
A subplot in the movie further highlights this but, to understand it, I have to give some background. The movie is about a security sales dad played by Ethan Hawke and his family on the night of the annual Purge. Lockdown begins and their young, potential Bernie bro son lets an endangered black man into the house, to find shelter…and he happens to be hunted by a fleet of young, white, ostensibly rich kids who use the night to hunt homeless people for fun and, in the process, kill each other for fun.
This sounds like water under the violence bridge but the homeless man gets at two very important problems in our world today that I don’t need to explain, that—in 2013—seemed to predict the epidemic of violence we see today: socioeconomic disparity and racial violence (and racism in general). There is a point where the man’s body is brutalized almost for no reason by Hawke and his wife (Lena Headey) because it seems like something they need to do. At no point are their actions questioned. At no point do they ask the man, “How can we work together? How can we save each other?” It highlights a supreme, ugly selfishness that has been capitalized in contemporary culture, that need to fight each other instead of stopping to ask each other questions.
Yes, the movie is hamfisted but it is an example of how important horror as a genre is. Yes, Idiocracy is ultimately a horror movie too but this movie is exactly the same in terms of hyperbole but without the humor: there is no haha, LOL lube to reflect reality. It just is. The film was way ahead of its time and is seemingly getting better and better, turning directly to what it is commenting on because no one seems to see the writing on the wall. All the films are from the same man, writer and director James DeMonaco, and are not some sort of silly factory horror: this is shrewd, smart commentary disguised as popcorn fright.
If you want a more serious, devastating brand of potential reality, watch The Purge. It is not perfect, no, but it is fucking brutal and you will see that it has aged well as a horror film. It’s the kind of movie that, like Idiocracy, will build in credibility. It is very mainstream—and thank god it is: it is the type of movie that reminds you why genre films with messages can be the most effective, especially when the reality that it is skewering is so close to our own.