The Purge franchise has been a big success—not so much in terms of its critical success, but in audience reaction. On social media there was a constant buzz about it (so much so that use of the word “purge” automatically drew people to think of the film). Building on that success filmmakers debuted a sequel came in 2014, The Purge: Anarchy.
But the success around this film has been ironic.
Let me explain: The Purge is a film about some ultra neo-liberal, practically fascist U.S. of the future that has created a single day where all crimes can go unpunished as a way of controlling crime rates. On that one day, people can go on a murder spree and will face absolutely no punishment. The whole concept is sickening, although much of it is a very insightful lefty critique of ideas of social Darwinism—whether the directors meant it to be or not.
In the first film, the antagonists are people who wish to cleanse society of the weaker link and prey on the vulnerable. They are a group of seemingly upper class well-educated white people, hunting down an unarmed black man that the protagonists have hid in their home. The antagonists are not raving blood-thirsty slashers motivated by a love for mayhem and destruction; they’re snooty sociopathic elitists.
Yet, the success of the film has depended, in part, on many people who seem to identify with the antagonists—those snooty elitists—more than the protagonists. Type in “purge makeup tutorial” into YouTube and you’ll find several tutorials on how to recreate the creepy mask look the film’s murderers wore to hide their identity. The Purge costumes were a popular choice this past Halloween.
What does it say about our society that a movie critiquing and showing the horrors of a state run by social Darwinism is interpreted as a “hey cool! I wanna look like the bad guy!”? It’s awkward, to say the least.
Perhaps the creators of the film intended this, but that’s just as awkward. It makes me wonder something truly frightening: Are we more like the villains or the heroes of the film? Are people really identifying with the villains or do they want to don their attire just for fun—and how is that even fun? Do they actually think it would be enjoyable to have a real life “purge”?
I suppose that’s the subtle brilliance of horror. It forces us to ask tricky questions and face uncomfortable realities about our society.
Next week, I look at physical disabilities in horror films and the ways in which they’re exploited for scares.