Why The Purge Matters


Box office actuals won’t likely be out until tomorrow, but the estimates are that The Purge not only won the box office for the weekend clearly, but it also sets a record for an opening by an R-rated horror film in the US. On top of that, it’s take in excess of $36 million dollars more than makes back its reported 3 million production budget.

I’ve frequently commented on budgets inasmuch as I don’t care what they are so long as the film is good. As a viewer that’s true. If a film cost a couple of thousand dollars and works (like Absentia) good for it. If a movie costs a lot of money and works for me bully for it as well (See Artificial Intelligence). Budget really only comes into play on a film, for a viewer, when a film is trying to tell a story beyond its means and fails. If a film understands its constraints and tells its story well within them you can’t knock if for being made on the cheap.

As a filmmaker, budgets do matter. When a film made with a very small investment compared to many, especially so-called tentpoles, can be a hit regardless of what its magic number is and return on that investment that’s a great thing. Most people with sense recognize that fiscal responsibility is needed. Steven Spielberg has directed a number of blockbusters but even he knows that more isn’t always more. So there’s a sense that profit, more than throwing money at a supposed sure thing; or rather something that can’t miss because too much has been invested already, doesn’t always make sense.

The Purge (2013, Universal)


But the success of The Purge is exciting because its strength is its idea. Now, I am one of those who enjoyed the film a great deal. There was a certain more that I wanted, and not in the best way, but the film does work and sets the stage. The concept is about a night of legalized crime. The introduction to the concept is through a microcosmic approach where one family who usually does not get involved, just hides out, becomes ground zero for the neighborhood’s hunt. It essentially plays a home invasion plot.

However, with a jumping-off point of legalized crime and the potential franchise (I am sure it will be one now) drawing its strength from a concept rather than a star or an iconic character there are any number of areas or stories in the genre it can explore. It can either start the next installment with this family or go off on a tangent, it can show the chaos that lead to this all or any number of permutations on Purge Night. Like many of the most successful franchises it tethers itself to a once-a-year happening, but in this case they created a holiday.

I think a common talking point was we wanted more about what precipitated the institution of the purge. That is introduced just enough such that the story can work and the details are left as potential fodder for later. In this film its a given and that’s fine. It still works very well and more importantly people talked about it. Whether you went in cynical or willingly suspended disbelief it got people talking, just on the concept.

On my Twitter feed I saw a hashtag develop of #LegitPurgeQuestions. Yes, many of them were funny but it’s still people talking, engaging, being interested in the idea, and when all is said and done, wanting more.

When I recently rescreened Sinister I noted how many bullets I jotted down for a post I’m planning later in the year. There are many talking points in it. Blumhouse is not only making successful horror films but ones that get people talking and whether you enjoy them or not, I for the most part have liked them a lot, they’re keeping a genre that’s always in peril of stagnation, to one extent or another, fresh.

I say that can be nothing but a good thing.