I actually liked this a bit better than I remember liking it last time, but that still only amounts to “it had its moments.” A home invasion thriller involving a single family is kind of the most boring thing you can do with this concept, and it’s also the most Centering White People way to tackle the issues of racism and classism that this series eventually gets kind of okay at including. And considering that the series’ politics are radlib at best even later on, it makes sense that this is where it starts.
But like. The fairly affluent white guy saying “it’s him or us” about a homeless black guy and the movie immediately cutting to a shot of their rec room with its expensive-looking pool table etc is… more poignant than I remembered this first installment getting. And the fact that said rec room is the part of their house that most prominently gets smashed to pieces later does actually make a thematic point.
And the white father is willing to sacrifice the black guy until his wife balks at the fact that they’re literally torturing him to get him to comply while they tie him to a chair. And she goes back on that when their front door is about to be ripped down and she fears for her children’s lives. And even their son, who is the character who most consistently does his best to protect the black guy from his family and questions the whole concept of the Purge, is willing to stand there and hold the flashlight at first.
This is how they divide and conquer us. With rec rooms on the one hand and homelessness on the other. With some exploited labor rewarded more highly. With the mere existence of homelessness used as a bludgeon to keep other people working. And things can’t really be that bad, can they? I mean, we have a really nice house with a nice rec room and neighbors who definitely aren’t forcing smiles while they think about killing us. Why can’t everyone just see if they could only work as hard as we are, they could be so lucky?
There are other isolated incidents that really work if you’re looking for them. The white father tells his son something like “I know it’s difficult to understand this at your age.” The absurd cruelty of everyday life is laid bare when it’s dramatized as a single night of intense violence but this is just what happens to us every day concentrated into one day. Privileged people are relatively insulated from the senseless violence because they can hide behind expensive security systems in nice neighborhoods and pretend it isn’t happening. Or, more often, praise the fact that it’s happening with tacky parties or just by watching the news and indoctrinating their kids into privileged whiteness.
But at the end of the day this is still a movie about a bunch of white people who are willing to sacrifice a black guy to protect themselves until they aren’t, and at the end of it all after he literally saves their lives don’t even think to offer him a meal or a bed for as long as he wants it? Even after all that? So you’ll forgive me if I don’t love it even when it makes a pretty good point now and again.
And you’ll also, I hope, forgive me if I’m still extremely willing to let Lena Headey step on me. I think I once proposed a movie on Twitter where Lena Headey and Eva Green are playing two extremely witty villains constantly one upping and trash-talking each other and just absolutely destroying anything that gets in their way, and I desperately need that movie to be real and for them both to step on me.
Anyway, yeah. The Purge is just an entire year of America happening in one night and everyone reacting basically the same way they react in real life. And in order to truly ally themselves with a black guy who will literally die if they don’t help him, the white family has to lose things. A rec room. A father who kind of definitely deserved it. The illusion that they can have this life without hurting anybody. The illusion that they have more in common with their mutual oppressors than they do with him. But he has his life to lose. And until the dad (who really had it coming) dies, did they really have anything to lose compared to him?
But like. It was a really nice rec room!
The Purge: Anarchy
I remember everyone saying “hey that new Purge movie is actually kinda good?” in that surprised tone and I remember not entirely believing it until I saw it myself. There’s still something undeniably a bit ridiculous about the fucking Purge having real things to say. The concept is just so straightforwardly goofy that it really feels like it shouldn’t be possible.
It does lead to a bit of weirdness where the movies are trying to have their cake and eat it. Like the ridiculous over the top violence is a big part of the appeal (it’s an action/horror movie after all) but the violence is definitely portrayed as a very bad thing? I think the movie mostly avoids the obvious pitfalls this entails but it definitely is a difficult line to tread.
Structurally they kind of just absolutely nailed what these movies should look like on the second time of asking. Like I might like more of an episodic approach instead of a single group moving through quite a few settings, but the end result is largely the same in that you just get to see a whole lot more of what the Purge looks like rather than just one white family cowering in their expensive house.
So, yeah. This is a pretty spectacular course correction and also just a pretty terrific movie in isolation. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but it’s definitely more than worthy of all those “it’s actually kinda good?” reactions it got when it came out.
The Purge: Election Year
Yeah so this is drastically worse than the previous movie. And I could write something exhaustive and ultimately long-winded about why, but pretty much all of it is summed up when after the white lady politician yells at black revolutionaries about how shooting genocidal white imperialists will make them “no different” from their oppressors, they come across a room full of bound and gagged intended Purge victims, and she snarls at the other white politician that she’s going to “beat the shit out of him” … on election day. (And then a black guy literally sacrifices himself to save her, which wouldn’t have happened if she had just let the black revolutionaries shoot all the white literal murderers. And that might sound like the movie DOES actually get it, except it wants us to believe that this is A GOOD THING because she wins in a landslide on election day. Stupid.)
The First Purge
Best politics in the series so far, but not quite as purely entertaining as say the second installment and maybe even the third despite the third movie’s politics just being the fucking worst.
The Forever Purge
The Texas setting/cowboy imagery don’t do much for me and given the overall preachiness of the movie/series I could’ve used a more explicit rebuke of the white guy who thinks he isn’t racist because “he doesn’t have a problem with Mexicans” and “he doesn’t think white people are any better or worse than anyone else,” he just thinks that everyone should “keep to their own.” I get that the plot pretty much rebukes him, but given how straightforward and preachy everything else is I would really prefer to see him explicitly admit that he was wrong. Shrug.
Anyway, yeah. This is fine and I would watch it again. It’s mostly class conscious and it has some pretty great messages of solidarity between the multinational working class. It’s not perfect or anything, but it’s not half bad.