Despite its incredibly high concept of an Annual Purge Night – a night in which all crime is legal, allowing citizens to take out their aggressions – The Purge franchise started out pretty low-key, with a home invasion thriller set in that world. With sequels Anarchy and Election Year, though, writer-director James DeMonaco has vastly expanded our exploration of this insane world, not only through the fictional terrors, but by increasingly turning up the heat on contemporary social and political issues. This isn’t just some apocalyptic horror story, it’s our apocalyptic horror story.
With its powerful “what if” scenario, sly socio-economical commentary, saddling of genres between action, thriller, and horror, and a framework with unlimited storytelling potential, The Purge has unexpectedly become one of the most smart, bold, and exciting new franchises in recent memory.
Next Week’s Pick:
Continuing on our month-long journey through political fare, we’re excited to cover the election classic The Candidate, starring Robert Redford. The film concerns a bold underdog Senatorial candidate agreeing to take on a popular incumbent in an unwinnable race. Written by an actual speechwriter for Senator Eugene McCarthy, the bold and insightful screenplay took home an Academy Award.
Sadly, Mr. Redford has just announced his intention to retire after a couple more films, but what a legacy! Join us in checking out The Candidate, streaming now on Amazon Prime, and send us your thoughts!
Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)cinapse.co!
Greg Dedrick is co-host of the Kansas City-based Nerds Of Nostalgia podcast, which covers all kinds of classic and contemporary pop culture including the hosting of live events and their own fan commentaries – but mostly has a soft spot for 80s movies. A couple weeks ago the guys recently teamed up with another podcast, The Media Rewind, to do a big old episode covering the entire Purge franchise. It’s a great listen and we recommend it as a nice chaser for this article.
More than anything, James DeMonaco’s premise for this franchise — which has always seemed to be in search of a truly great movie completely worthy of it — at least taps into the overarching theme of this election cycle, if not American politics in general: a complete lack of empathy among many corners (nearly half of them, apparently) of this nation has grown toxic. When The Purge debuted just a few short years ago, its allegorical implications were clear enough, yet still felt like a hyperbolic extreme. Now, it just feels like a succinct reflection: this is not to say that we’re months away from an actual purge, but anyone who cast their vote for Donald Trump voted to purge the safety and well-being of minorities in America.
It’s no coincidence that DeMonaco explicitly drew this franchise along those lines, as beleaguered minorities find themselves at the mercy of a white ruling class that’s legalized the systematic destruction of those they’ve deemed undesirable. Given its release and subject matter, it’s not surprising that Election Year manages to be the most topical of the three, at least on the surface. An idealistic female senator taking on an evil, sadistic puppet makes for an obvious parallel, and her alliance with working-class families on Purge Night once again finds DeMonaco turning his premise into a soapbox, where he basically shouts what so many of us are thinking right now: “just how did we let it come to this?”
It’s completely on-point, but the events of the recent day make it more prescient than we could have imagined even a few months ago. In the film, the idealistic senator and her justifiably angry protectors face a moral quandary: do they stoop to the levels of her opposition and use the Purge as a justification for murdering her rival, thus ensuring her election? Or do they choose to go high when their opponents go low? It turns out that the idealism and moderation here anticipated the tenor of an election cycle dominated by ugly mudslinging above which only one side was willing to rise.
Unfortunately, that’s where the prescience ends: where Election Year posits that such idealism results in a nation coming to its senses and voting in everyone’s bests interests, reality has offered a stark rejoinder. Democrats played relatively nice, ignoring decades of evidence of the GOP’s willingness to play dirty. This time, they went as low as possible, and they won. It’s a far cry from DeMonaco’s strangely optimistic vision of a country that wakes up from its own nightmare. Just as this franchise seems to be at an end, our actual nightmare is just beginning, and I can only imagine just how pissed off any future Purge films might be (despite Election Year’s ending, there is, of course, an opening for a sequel), even if that’s the farthest thing from my mind right now. (@BrettGallman)
The ills of a stratified society, class warfare, racial tension, these are the themes explored by The Purge: Election Year. The Purge series began with an interesting dystopian concept and a tight little home invasion thriller. Since that time, it has spawned two sequels, both stronger than the original film. And, with each film, it has gone deeper into these themes that are so applicable to what is happening in America right now.
The representation of hope in this film, Elizabeth Mitchell’s Senator Roan, is a Bernie-esque figure who is attacking the systems of the New Founding Fathers. Her message of change resonates with the people… which of course, makes her enemy #1 of the powers that be.
This rewatch of the film had my mind whirling, but ultimately it proved as entertaining a ride as it did when I first saw it. Frank Grillo is a goddammed action star in the making. The social commentary is effective. Can’t wait to see where they take the series from here. (@thepaintedman)