The Purge: Anarchyby Paul Blom / 01.09.2014
Man, popcorn and Diet Coke first thing in the morning can’t be good for you…
Besides bad education, horrendous diets are surely set to be the downfall of our civilization. So here I sit in the dark on a mid-week morning, guilty of committing nutritional anarchy while watching a movie that, at its face value, can be seen as a mere semi-mainstream exploitation flick, but very soon reminds me how indiscriminate violence, bloodshed and murder is a far more visceral symptom (yet its link to processed foods and more money spent on penitentiaries than schools in America, the seemingly benign issues surely blend into a cocktail for disaster).
Which brings us to the movie at hand.
Now, while some might argue that we don’t live in a utopian illusion but we’re also not quite in the midst of a dystopian downfall, crime is definitely a global problem and we can’t wish it away. And fighting fire with fire could also, well, easily backfire.
If you missed the first chapter of The Purge last year (with Ethan Hawke and his family confined to their home), that doesn’t matter, as there is no link to previous characters or storylines to confuse you. Set a decade into the future, the basic premise being that this is the annual night of ‘purging’– a system set in place by a totalitarian government (known as the NFFA – New Founding Fathers of America), whereby on one designated night a year all crime is made legal – the citizenry may do as they please (nothing is taboo, even murder), unhampered by police or medical services. For those not actively taking part, it’s either barricade yourself in your home, hide or take your chances on the streets (where the perpetrator can easily become the victim).
But in this future-America, unemployment and poverty is actually reduced and the Purge is set up as a way for the people to ‘let off steam’ (a ludicrous law, right?), but there is a form of perverse population control at the heart of it all.
Writer / Director James DeMonaco (maker of such forgettable moments as Skinwalkers and Assault on Precinct 13), returns to continue this bleak glimpse of a possible future where radical but irrational measures can become law if enough legislators vote for it. Protection Of State Information Bill anyone? Who watches the watchers? If enough paedophiles, cannibals or people believing homosexuals should be executed, infiltrate a parliament or senate, can their misguided desires become law because a room of elected officials all vote for it? Or, for that matter, will we accept whatever gets decided in our docile resignation, or rage against the power and fight it?
On closer inspection (and sometimes very blatantly) the commentary on our social structures and general decline of society transcend the mere Thriller / Horror elements of the on-screen story.
In The Purge: Anarchy three groups of citizens converge by fate: a well-armed and trained man bent on vengeance, a mother and her daughter, and a couple on the verge of a break-up. Counting the minutes as they’re pursued by more than one nefarious group claiming The Purge as their right – survival in a city on fire is their main aim.
Compared to the first Purge film, this one is a less confined continuation, a more action-fuelled drive and survival point A to point B scenario.
Beneath this brutal view of a possible future, there lies a sense of optimism as the characters’ humanity naturally get explored and exposed (as well as the hidden blood-lust of unexpected others).
The viewer is set up to follow and identify with these characters that display more of a moral compass and capacity for redemption in the face of sheer terror and imminent death.
Other role players out on the mean streets include a sinister, well-organised, neo-military force and, on the flip side, a revolutionary anti-purge group opposing the NFFA.
Futuristic mechanisms taking flights of fantasy in dealing with crime (from Death Race to Escape From New York and Fortress) seem far-fetched but make for a fine 90-minute slash of entertainment. The Purge is no different, but is it more believable? Some would argue that parts of South Africa are already free-for-all crime zones, and when people are fed up and personally affected, the call for the instatement of the death penalty (and even public executions) becomes an easy one to make. Will you pitch up for a glimpse in the town square? Police cam styled TV shows are more popular than ever and Youtube clips depicting real life war atrocities and assorted other gore get more hits than a Nicki Minaj music video, so how far away are we from this? And if a system like The Purge becomes a reality in your city, would you partake?
With this fictitious scenario playing itself out on the screen, I couldn’t help but think about the viability of something like this, and would a society be able to simply return to normality in the aftermath – certainly that couldn’t be possible? Can we flick a switch that has us go from pacifist to murderer and back to normal guy all in the space of a few hours? For example, you go next door to whack your noisy neighbour and the day after you’ll be smiling and greeting his wife and kids? Or will it need to be a case of overkill in having to take them all out, just to avoid that uncomfortable scenario (and facing your conscience)?
Our inner beast often lurks very close to the surface, but we have varying levels of morality (be it taught by parents, schools, churches, laws, or independent of all of those, a logical internal sense of being part of a world you don’t want to see go up in flames). That demon can also be exorcised by playing video games (Grand Theft Auto definitely came to mind while viewing this), extreme sports, or ja, just by watching movies like these (!).
Bigger and lesser laws get broken when the chance for punishment is diminished, like skipping a red light or texting while driving when no cops are around. When it comes to more serious issues like assaulting, robbing, raping or murdering someone, we know the consequences, but how fucked-up are our ever corrupted souls if we’re offered carte blanche, and take it? Do invisible rules hold such a sway over our behaviour? We’ve seen the memes along the lines of “Who would you kill if you could get away with it?” – reflecting on ourselves and how easily our minds can drift there. Remove the consequence and are we capable of it? That is a battle waged within one of the film’s characters (a cop upholding the law outside of the Purge period) setting out for what he believes to be justified vengeance (the regular course of law having failed him).
But, back to America, where Republicans believe that America doesn’t have a gun problem and the NRA’s solution is more guns (!), the recent St Louis police shooting is just another reminder. And as I write this a news clip has shown video footage of a 9-year-old girl accidentally killing her shooting instructor!
The privileged 1% keeps organisations like the NRA afloat for economic reasons, not civil liberties or the archaic and distorted Second Amendment. The Purge: Anarchy condemns this upper class in the strongest possible terms, being the ones who can afford the best security, but then (like their bourgeois fox hunting cocksucker predecessors), use this opportunity to kill, hunt and relish in visiting a cruel death upon the defenceless and those less fortunate than them (some of the poor selling themselves as sacrificial lambs for a fee to sustain their struggling families, or those unfortunate enough to be captured by hired hands).
Like big game hunting scum (from that Bachmann bitch to the Trump brats coming to Africa to kill for stuffed trophies), this wealthy sector uses the law to their advantage to exploit the defenceless and quench their blood lust without facing consequences.
And yes, the viewer may need to prepare themselves for some just desserts in that respect.
Something I also found odd, and others will find to be true terror, is the presence of Michael Bay as one of the producers… (although he has been part of quite a few horror projects including remakes of classics like Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street). But, Jason Blum is the main producer almost reinventing the economics of filmmaking with micro-budget movies getting wide cinema release and high returns (cast and crew taking a percentage instead of upfront payment, allowing the initial cost of the movie to be low). The cost and profit ratio of movie series like his Paranormal Activity and Insidious rake it in (The Purge: Anarchy costing under $10 million but taking over $100 million so far).
They always say sex sells, but that is the case for most societal taboos, including violence (and the threat of it providing the audience with thrilling scares).
As the artificial butter salt and chemically sweetened Cola attaches itself to my cells, thankfully it hasn’t distorted me into discarding my conscience and sense of morality, leaving the cinema not fired up to head out on a killing spree – not yet anyway…