Last night I watched The Purge. It's a 2013 horror movie of little note. The summary: In a future America, one night a year all crime is legal, allowing for a catharsis of violence, and a reduction in crime the remainder of the year. Upper middle class, suburban, white family, headed by Ethan Hawke, has made a comfortable living selling security, and on the night of the annual Purge, feel safe. Of course, they're not. The youngest child, a son, decides to help a random man on the street. This invites the group of masked killers to pursue the family for harboring their victim. The once impenetrable home security that Ethan Hawke so proudly sold, is breached and the family must fight for their lives.
The concept of The Purge is quite interesting. One day of sanctioned crime. Any crime it seems, yet the movie restricts itself to murder. This, of course, would be the most frightening aspect of the night to a upper middle class white family. I, on the other hand, immediately thought of several other crimes that could make an interesting story.
Which brings me to why this movie failed. As you can tell from my summary, I can't even remember the characters names. I call the MC, Ethan Hawke, because that's really the only way I can identify him. His character is completely lackluster, and the rest of his household is filled with upper middle class white troupes. Rebellious and horny teen daughter. Slightly smarter than average, but maybe not because he makes so many dumb moves, son. And a wife. Whose sole purpose is wife and mother. She does not exist outside those roles.
Now, you may be thinking that I'm about to come to the conclusion that it's the lack of characterization that makes this movie awful. And while that certainly didn't help it, I don't think that's it. In fact, I think it's the setting.
We know very little about the Purge from the movie. There is a little bit of exposition, in that it seems to screw the lower class because they cannot afford protection. Also emergency services will be offline during the 12 hours the event takes place. No hospitals, no fire department, no police. Yet, at the end of the movie, as the clock strikes the hour of the end, police sirens are heard in the background. The other bit of info we know is that Ethan Hawke's character is quite wealthy, and lives in a gated community. Which is probably quite secure and not really affected by the Purge as other areas of the country. Then we are forced to follow this family, that is not a reflection at all of the majority of American families, who are basically victimized for "good deeds." I can't even say because they're kind (they're not). The good deed doesn't come from anywhere other than a means to advance the plot. Because, if they never allowed the man in, then there would be no movie. They're victimized because the plot calls for it.
However, if we took a the concept of the Purge, and set it just about anywhere else, the story becomes much more interesting.
What is the Purge like in one of those lower class families that can't afford protection? Do they join in so that they are not slaughtered? Or do they booby trap their house?
Also, murder is actually a fairly rare crime. Thief is much higher. So by this logic, wouldn't just a middle class family, or even a lower middle class family be worse off? They make just enough money to have nice things, so they have items worth stealing, but not enough money to have high end security. Seems to me that they would be the most targeted economic tier.
How about in a hospital? Just because the ER is closed, doesn't mean everyone in the hospital is kicked out. You could have doctors and patients going on rampages. Or people desperately trying to get in to get helped. Or people trying to steal pharmaceuticals. That seems like a terrifying place to be during this event.
Then there's emergency services. The sirens hit the roads as soon as the Purge ends. This means, that the police and fire departments have people waiting so that they can be dispatched at the end of the Purge. And of course, reporting to work during the Purge is deadly, so they are probably there all night. Yet, another more interesting story.
Besides emergency services, there are other companies that probably require employees to stay overnight during the Purge. There is a live television feed throughout the event. This means there's a TV station with employees working through the night. What about what happens to them? To have to work the most dangerous night of the year? Is the pay like quadrupled and worth it? Is it a Deadliest Catch deal? Or are they forced to or lose their job?
There's also humanitarians. What about churches? Red Cross? People who devote their lives to helping the poor? Are they out roaming the streets? Offering help to the wounded? Providing protection? What hells do they face?
In the credits, there's a brief report that 200 people in Austin participated in the Purge all at once in town square or whatever. THAT is a more interesting setting than what we got!
Why are these settings more interesting? Because the setting already has intrinsic conflict. If you are committing a crime, that's a conflict. If you cannot protect yourself because of economic status, conflict. If you are trapped somewhere, conflict. If you're stuck in a well secured, upper middle class house, well, the conflict has to come to you. And it didn't feel natural.
Personally, I would set the story in an office building. With a small group of friends trying to commit embezzlement. They could turn against each other, and then they have to fight over anyone else who may be in the building. Security? Others seeking shelter? Others out for the wild ride? My husband votes for the same story, but set in a lower middle class home. Embezzling, while trying to stay alive and guard your home.
Why did The Purge choose the setting it did? I think it's laziness. It's easy to write about a bland, upper middle class family. I'm sure the writer was trying to make a statement on how no one is safe, and that even the rich can be targeted. A statement that the person selling security isn't even secure. A statement about how we can't trust our neighbors. Plus, it's easier. It's easier than thinking up traps. It's easier than coming up with dynamic and unique characters, challenged to do something more. It's easy to think that the Purge is all about murder instead of the plethora of crime that would actually be going on.
I would like the write The Purge 2. Use this quite interesting concept, and really take it somewhere. Now, does anyone know those producers?