05 March 2015


Twelve Things about The Purge: Anarchy

12. The Purge movies are released in some countries under the title American Nightmare--and I can't decide which one I like better. In an ideal world, their title would be The Hunger Games . . . because screenwriter James DeMonaco would have refined his vision accordingly and novelist Suzanne Collins would have written a book about more than just what happens to a pretty girl when other people plot her destiny around her.

11. As I explained in my Thirteen Things about The Purge, the America of this dystopian future isn't about killing children in order to keep their communities in line, but about committing crimes in order to cleanse yourself (and as a consequence, society) of evil. What both premises have in common is a religious concept--the ancient practice of laying all the sins of a community on the head of a goat and driving the poor animal into the desert. Where they diverge is their stance on it: while The Hunger Games has an atheist's disgust for what it sees as ceremonial hypocrisy, The Purge is full of foxholes full of believers. Including disgusted believers.

10. But the most unsettling parallels are in real life. We don't have to look much further than our own culture, which has adapted the scapegoat ceremony to the digital age. Take the huge purge party inspired by a single tweet from a little over a year ago . . .

For the whole story, please read:
How One Stupid Tweet Ruined Justine Sacco's Life

This totally reminds me of the time when a friend and I were discussing possible international vacation destinations. She was really interested in South Africa, and I said, "Can we stay out of Africa, please? I'm scared." In mock outrage, she stuck her finger in my face and gasped, "Racist! Racist!"

Laughing, I protested: "All I said was that I was scared. How did you know I wasn't talking about a rhino upsetting our truck on a safari?"

Later in the conversation, the US came up and I suggested Texas. And my friend said, "I don't want to go to the South! What if a redneck sheriff harasses us?"

ROFLMAO, right??? It was my turn to pin her to the wall then. We both had a good laugh over stereotypes, including those about our own country. And that was the end of it. But it might not have been. You see, she and I had been talking in a cafe, where any of the complete strangers sipping drinks could have been with the FBI or KGB or SJW. Can you imagine what would have happened if someone had taped that part of our conversation, out of context, and put it before the Thought Police? My friend and I might have ended up like the couple in this movie whose car breaks down in the middle of the city, right before the Purge begins for the night: people who aren't bad, but who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

9. Most people who watch Horror movies aren't psychos . . . indeed, most people, full stop, aren't psychos . . . so one way that we deal with the spectacle of other people being humiliated and abused is to rationalise that they did something to deserve it. Horror movies help us out here (or if you prefer, don't help us at all) by writing in something that we can hold against the victims. But that's just magical thinking--and nearly five years after calling Randy Meeks the "priest figure" of the Scream franchise, I must more precisely characterise him as a well-intentioned priest who doesn't realise he's preaching gnostic and Pelagian sermons because he hasn't been disciplined by his bishop yet.

The just sufferings of "bad" people don't qualify as Horror as much as Porn; and the Ancient Greeks, who believed in cleansing the emotions through compassion and fear, banned that dirty exploitation from their theatre. On the other hand, sufferings rooted in a fatal flaw--that is, sufferings that you bring about but don't deserve--are also not Horror, but Tragedy . . . although modern storytelling tends to blur the distinctions between them. What is truly horrifying is unjust suffering--and The Purge: Anarchy makes quite the moral statement by letting most of the main cast be decent folk who don't deserve the hell they go through.

8. Well, it took me long enough to focus on the film that this post is supposed to be a review of! =P So let's meet the unlucky bunch, shall we?

They just need a dog =P

The man and woman on the right are the couple who thought they'd have enough time to get home before the Purge started, only to be stranded in the middle of the city. We could say that it's their fault for being out so late, except that it isn't. And to hold them accountable for it would be as bad as saying that the woman in the centre deserved to have her apartment broken into by the sleazy neighbour whose advances she has been politely fending off for months. The girl beside her is her teenage daughter. And the guy on the left who reminds you of Frank Castle (Admit it!) is the only one who deliberately went out that night to join the Purge. Give me enough caffeine and I will write a doctoral dissertation on his character.

7. The irony is that he is the only one in the group whom we can say "asked for it"--though not in that awful sense. When he sees the mother and daughter about to be "purged" in cold blood, he knows he shouldn't get involved if he is to accomplish his mission for the night . . . but against his better judgment, he saves them anyway. His doing so gives our stranded couple a chance to throw themselves upon his mercy as well, and though he really doesn't want two more helpless hangers-on slowing him down, he is talked into it. All of it is a grace that he doesn't deserve.

6. The prize for Most Annoying Character goes to the teenage girl, who has been watching Internet videos by an anti-Purge resistance group and wants to share their message with the Punisher-Purger figure. Never mind that he's going out of his way to save her and her mother, although he owes them nothing. The least she could do is to let him have his purge, right?

Well, this is where The Purge: Anarchy turns into a Morality Play. As I explained in Twelve Things about Night of the Demons, the three main characters of such a play are Mankind and the devil and the priest who are fighting over him--and the devil is always more entertaining than the priest. And if only because the priest is a buzzkill, the audience invariably root for the devil. Writer-director DeMonaco may be moral, but he isn't medieval; so he blends Mankind and the devil into a single anti-hero . . . and gives the priest's soul-saving role to a yapping girl. (A St. Christina figure? Hey, I don't mind!) She is a consistent voice of morality and compassion throughout the story, but all we and the Mankind/devil figure want is for her to shut up. Excellent work, Mr. DeMonaco.

5. The anti-Purge resistance group push back not just with words, but also with weapons. Their reasoning is that the people who have the most power to change the status quo also have the least incentive: they can wait the Purge out in homes that are virtual fortresses . . . and if they want to join in, they can stack the odds in their favour so that they themselves are never in any danger. (Look up "canned hunting.") Yes, it's sickening. But when the strategy is to gun as many of the powerful down as well, the line between purger and anti-purger starts blurring. The most tragic part of the film is when a character who has been an innocent victim declares an intention to join the resistance group by saying, "I want to purge" . . . and the resistance leader has no problem with that.

4. And the creepiest part of the film is the masks. Like its predecessor, this movie gets a lot of mileage from its masked revelers.

If I had to write a Top Five Horror Gangs list . . .

The scariest moment is probably when they show up on the bridge (You'll know what I mean when you see it). Like the main cast, you'll spend the rest of the movie hoping that the masked gang never show up again. And like the main cast, you will be reeling when one of the masks comes off.

Or maybe not. Two or the three moments I've mentioned are very powerful as story points, but they don't translate to the screen as smoothly as they should. And they're not the only ones. I can see exactly what DeMonaco was going for as a writer . . . but that's what makes it so frustrating to run into his limitations as a director. He's competent enough, but it often feels that his own story is too big for him to handle.

3. More than appearance separates purger and anti-purger. Remember when I complained that The Purge wanted me to hate white people? Well, other reviewers seem to think that racial subtext is just as bad strong in this sequel . . . though none of them seems to be making a big deal over this film's version of white masks. (Aha, right?!) But I wasn't so distracted this time around. For me, The Purge: Anarchy is clearly about the rich being unjust to the poor.

And about the poor fighting back . . .
"He stole our pensions, now he's gone."

Purge night is evil in and of itself, of course, but it manages to be even worse when one sector of society gets to engage in objective evil, with impunity, and at another sector's expense. (I tried looking up "socioeconomic genocide," but it's not a thing yet.) We must also factor in the degrading effect that such entertainment has on the character. The rich may save their bodies, but whether or not you believe in hell, you can bet that they corrupt their souls.

2. It's when we move from psychology to politics that The Purge franchise (Yes, there's going to be a third film! Aren't you excited?) gets really controversial. For the Purge isn't just a religious institution, but also an economic one. And you'll see what I mean in the small-scale version of it that seems to exist in every world--for the best reasons to have an abortion all have something to do with getting more for yourself when the basket of finite resources is passed around.

In that case, however, why are so many modern women on psychiatric medication do poor people still have such crappy lives the other 364 days in a year? Can't this world do better for them than a zero crime rate? Surely free healthcare is feasible here! But the story underlines that it's not--and that medicines are expensive. And I don't get that. If DeMonaco is also making a case against Thomas Malthus, I can't follow his argument. But if you see how it's economically sound, please let me know!

1. Let's end on a personal note. If your country had an Annual Purge, what would you do? Oh, I don't mean what crimes you'd commit. I trust that every reader of my blog is a moral person! ;-) I'm wondering what you'd do if you lived in a world where you were in danger from purgers. In both Purge movies, we see that most people stay home, barricade their doors and windows, and have at least one gun handy--but that's just for Purge night. And it wouldn't end there: the spectre of that twelve-hour period would hang over the rest of the year and overshadow all the choices that you make in your life. So how would your life be different if you lived in a country where, for twelve hours a year, all crime is legal?

Image Sources: a) The Purge: Anarchy poster, b) Justine Sacco's controversial tweet, c) The Purge: Anarchy main cast, d) Purging gang, e) Purged stockbroker


DMS said...

Hmmm... Scary idea! I think that my first thought would be to hide in my house. But on second thought- maybe I could go on vacation out of my country. :) Miss the purge and relax.

Sheila said...

I'm friends with a lot of my neighbors. Is there anything to stop us from planning ahead and barricading the whole street?

Never seen the movies, but anarchy isn't too scary if you make your own mutual protection organizations to fill in the gap left by the state. It's what some poorly-policed areas do.

Bob Wallace said...

Well, DMS and Sheila...you might not might to take any of your family members with you. After all, according to the movies, there is a very quick way to get a divorce.

Enbrethiliel said...


Jess -- That's definitely the best option! I can imagine some families saving up all year just to be able to be out of the country on Purge night. But this once more underlines the inequality between the Haves and Have-Nots, because there are some people who simply wouldn't be able to do that.

I also think that a lot of people would be moving to border towns. Then all they'd have to do before the Purge is drive a few kilometres into another country and stay at a cheap motel! No guarantees about what would happen to their property, though!

Sheila -- There's nothing to stop you from planning ahead! I wonder if the third movie is going to do a version of that. Families tend to stay in their own houses and keep to themselves during Purge night; but after the events of this movie (which the survivors will presumably publicise), realistic plotting demands that there be more of a community effort in the third installment.

Communities banding together is also going to mean tribal warfare . . . and you wouldn't want a traitor in your ranks! Oh, I have so many ideas! James DeMonaco has got to call me!!!

Bob -- That was a great twist, wasn't it? I think, however, that it lost some of the impact it might have had, because of all the other stuff going on in the movie.

cyurkanin said...

Jeez, ma'am, you somehow manage to extract every drop of marrow from the pile of purged bones, don't you? :) I watched this second one for the sole reason knowing you were going to do a post on it. For the life of me, I just can't plumb the depths of it the way you can lol

However, regarding your question of what others might do during a purge might have had less consideration behind it. The "purges" that occur nightly in certain sections of cities are not so far from the hollywood version. There sections of Baltimore, DC, Miami and other cities where I've had the (un)pleasure of spending time, in which I wouldn't advise venturing outside during the hours of darkness (maybe not 12 hours but long enough) without protection and/or staying unseen in the shadows.

Bob Wallace said...

There are Purges not so very far from where I live. They're on the national news very often.

Enbrethiliel said...


Christopher -- I hadn't known about the real-life "purges." The movie is more topical than I thought!

Bob -- Now that you two bring it up, I think I have seen some very Purge-like footage on the international news . . . There's just more wanton property damage in it than in the movies.

cyurkanin said...

Yeah, they don't really call it "Purge" unless there's white college kids doing it. Otherwise, it's just known as Tuesday night. Or Wednesday night. or...

Bob Wallace said...

Purge = Dionysian sacrifice (in the real sense of the Dionysian, which is not good at all).

Enbrethiliel said...


So you already live in a country where "purges" are a thing--but in certain areas rather than at a certain time! That gives me a lot more to think about!

Bob Wallace said...

"The Purge: Anarchy" was the same thing that was done during the Greek festivals of Dionysus, and for the same reasons: choose a scapegoat to renew society. Human sacrifice of scapegoats. Close to the same thing in "The Cabin in the Woods." Human sacrifice the scapegoats - the kids - to save society. The Ancient Ones turned the tables. Marty suggested this was not such a bad thing - "It's their turn now."

Eve Penman said...

i haven't seen the second purge film, only the first. i think that was enough for me, though i wouldn't be against watching the second (and the future third) if they come my way through a free movie available at the library.

i like what you wrote about the thought police & saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, especially if the wrong people are listening. everything can be taken out of context & used against someone; my work as a court reporter taught me that. black & white text can be harder to interpret than voice, so jokes in text rarely come across as well as hearing it in dialogue where tone can inflect humor versus seriousness; but if that humorous dialogue is transferred to text, it can be interpreted in bad ways.

sadly, many humans i've encountered through work and personal life are apt to believe what they hear without considering the fact that they have not heard the full story or they only heard a snippet of something taken out of context; or they don't consider the fact that it's none of the dang business what that person said. instead they choose to make it their business and get their panties in a bunch for no good reason. as if!

what's interesting about the first purge film (can't speak for the second) is that it only showed everyday people going after everyday people. what about going after the people who make the laws that say it's okay to let people commit crimes one day a year? rats do the world no good, especially if those rats are giving permission to people to harm others. it's funny how so many films never show who the real problems are in the world -- bureaucrats in government.

Enbrethiliel said...


The court beat must have been interesting! And you must be reminded of that experience often when you see people holding other people's words against them in real life. Have we turned into a world of amateur policemen-lawyers-judges-executioners-rolled-into-one???

Your story reminds me of one of my roommates in uni, who didn't like a certain way of referring to people in English, which was her second language. She was from Japan, so the first thing that started grating on her ears was people talking about "the Japanese" or just "Japanese." That was dehumanising, she said; we all should be saying "Japanese people," without a "the." And it went on: soon, everyone in her presence had to say "Chinese people," "Catholic people," "gay people," etc.

I didn't mind at the time, because she and I had become good friends; but if we hadn't been so close, I would have pushed back at her attempts to change what is a perfectly normal, non-offensive way of referring to people in a language that she was still learning. It wasn't her place to police other people's speech.

You're right that the first Purge film focussed on ordinary people--insofar as we can say the wealthy Sandins and their neighbours are "ordinary." But there was a closer look at and critique of the New Founding Fathers in the second film . . . so it looks as if we will get to see the real bad guys in future installments! While I hope that DeMonaco doesn't wait too long (because it would be awful to save something for a fourth film that might not be greenlighted), I also wouldn't want him to jump the gun too fast if he has a good vision of how the story should be told.