“Binge on Purge” might have been too on-the-nose as a title, right?
Like pretty much every movie from Blumhouse (Sinister, the Paranormal Activity series, Insidious), The Purge took place primarily inside one house, as a single family dealt with the consequences of a night during which most crime becomes temporarily legal. The intimate setting is partly for budgetary reasons, but also because producer Jason Blum cites “thinking someone’s in the house at night” as his greatest fear – all his horror movies have that at that their core.
But once The Purge made a lot of money, it was clear it was going to have to move out of the house, like so many college students, and make something bigger of itself. Hence the movie sequel, which Blum promises will “spend a lot of time outside,” and the horror attraction, which brings you into direct contact with the New Founders who created the Purge law…and the armed revolutionaries fighting them.
I had the chance to check it out for myself, and talk to both Blum and co-director Josh Randall.
The setting is pretty perfect – a building in downtown Los Angeles covered in populist slogans that make it perfect for co-opting by faux patriots. The seal of the New Founders – a highly weaponized American eagle – has been added.
Once you’re inside, the lobby looks like that of a government building.
Large TV screens warn that the purge has begun, interspersed by propaganda from a pundit.
As the sun set, our experience was to begin.
one of these is my car
Initially, you enter a pitch black tunnel with no visibility whatsoever, as you must orient yourself around corners in the dark while random noises interrupt the silence. Then, in the dark, somebody pushes you through a tight space in the wall, and you emerge in an old-fashioned theater, seeing…the president.
I had asked the show’s creators beforehand about the politics of the show. The movie tended to reflect a viewer’s biases: conservatives saw the villain as Big Government gone amok, while liberals perceived an NRA-enhanced nightmare. Here’s what Randall said (emphasis mine):
“…we don’t have any overall government/political statement that we’re making with this, but we are aware that by choosing government officials, and setting the show within the New Founder headquarters, that you are inherently making certain political statements just by who you cast and what happens to them. We’ve tried very hard to strike a balance between liberalism and conservatism, and really not have it be about either/or.”
Translation: There’s a black president who meets a bad end. And his enemies, the good guys of the piece, are called “Constitutionalists” and wear red. No statement there, right?
The president delivers platitudes to canned applause, as does his wife, but then we get to hear from their adopted white daughter, whose birth parents were murdered in the last Purge. She grudgingly talks about how great the whole thing is.
The performance is weirdly on a “loop” – if you come in during the middle, it’ll start from the beginning again while you’re there, which must be strange for the actors. Row by row, audience members are then taken back stage to meet the Bill O’Reilly/Lawrence O’Donnell-like pundit you saw on the TV in the lobby. He has his pants down because comedy.
Randall: “I’m not really scared by monsters and vampires, so when guys like that jump out at me in a haunted house environment, there’s really nothing scary about it. There are other things that do scare me, and they tend to be more of a real life scare, something that could actually happen to me. And when you get people who are in the purging mood, whether it be revolutionaries, dissidents, or just people out to kill other people, to me that’s really frightening, and so it’s about keeping the audience in a heightened state of vulnerability and allowing them to take the ride.”
From here the pace picks up a lot. Armed Constitutionalists break into the studio and kidnap you, forcing you through mock interrogations and simulated dog-sniffings, before taking you with them on a mission to steal a key and access card from the presidential suite. It got a lot harder to take photos from this point on, not because we weren’t allowed but because things kept moving pretty quickly.
It also wouldn’t be fair to spoil too much, but here are a few quick pics…
At one point you get to witness, and even assist with, a pregnant woman giving birth. Let’s just say it ends in the worst possible way.
Other moments have you searching corpses for keys – only the corpses may not be really dead. As you wander the various floors of the building, your escorts keep their eyes out for government troops…
Of course, it wouldn’t be The Purge if you didn’t run into these types:
It all ends in what seems like no time at all, but upon checking my watch, I realized I’d been in for 45 minutes.
Things end at the Founder’s Bar, where you can enjoy a cocktail and hear Billy Joel’s “Innocent Man” on the P.A.
Originally, only half the attraction was on a guided path, and the rest was up to you. Explains Blum, “There’s an event in New York which we also really liked called Sleep No More, which is not a maze at all. It’s five floors in a big building, and it’s Macbeth, though if you spent two hours in it you wouldn’t know it was Macbeth. Basically, you walk around, and if you go as a couple they tell you please don’t hold hands, we want you to have your own experience. And everyone sees a different thing – it’s totally do-whatever-you-want.
What we tried to do on the first weekend was kinda half and half: the beginning of it was a walkthrough, and the second half was do whatever you want, and people were just totally confused by that. I think part of why they were confused is we did it half and half, not the full thing…they came to the bar and they didn’t go anywhere.”
Blum gave everybody a refund, reconceived the path, and invited them back. He says 90% liked it better the second time.
As for me? I wouldn’t say it was all that scary, but it was fun – there is a definite participatory feel that you’re living a movie. Guys with fake guns don’t frighten me, but I was interested in seeing where the next turn would take us and how the story would go. At around $40 it seems a little pricey for one attraction – less so if you think of it as a big-budget play – but I am giving a pair of tickets away for free, and you have until noon to enter.