‘God bless America…’
As the world becomes ever more fraught and difficult, I find myself retreating further and further into the annals of history for comfort. I’ve been revisiting classic albums, watching films from the ’90s and spending hours on football documentaries. It is only natural then that I should turn to one of my great loves – the horror franchise.
I love horror movies of all sizes. I love The Shining but I also love Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. I’ve always had a soft spot for a franchise that can knock out numerous, increasingly bizarre, sequels. For some reason, The Purge movies passed me by first time round, so this has been the perfect time to address this omission in my horror film knowledge.
4. The Purge: Election Year (2016)
If the second Purge movie occasionally (and I would say successfully) straddled the line between the action and horror genres, the third film in the franchise – The Purge: Election Year – crosses that line and blasts it with a bazooka before issuing a pithy one liner. There are very few moments during this threequel that one would associate with the horror genre, or even with the rest of the franchise. Once again, writer/director James DeMonaco fails to do anything much of note with the genuinely brilliant concept that he has created, instead resorting to action movie cliche and stale shoot outs. What makes this even more frustrating is that the cast do a good job and DeMonaco had a decent budget to work with.
The Purge: Election Year is the least inspired movie of the franchise and, by extension, the least fun.
3. The First Purge (2018)
By the time we get to the fourth and most recent Purge movie, we know the drill. Great concept. Interesting ideas. Shoddy execution. Taking us all the way back to a time before the New Founding Fathers of America have established the purge is a great idea. The thought of the government sending in an armed militia to ensure that the inaugural purge has the appropriate impact is also solid. The problem is that as soon as the mercenaries appear, The First Purge ceases to be a horror film and starts being an action movie. Pick a lane.
James DeMonaco (who has relinquished the role of director here, but stays on as a writer) does horror well when he feels the urge. He brings absolutely nothing new to the action genre though, and in many ways The First Purge is representative of the entire franchise. So much promise, so little execution.
2. The Purge (2013)
Blumhouse Productions wasn’t the household name it is now back in 2013, but the wildly successful brainchild of Jason Blum had released Sinister, Insidious and Paranormal Activity in a bid to shake up the horror landscape. The Purge followed the Blumhouse formula of low budgets for high reward and, sure enough, it was a hit.
The concept is irresistible. The New Founding Fathers of America have decreed that on one night every year, crime is abolished. Every citizen has the right to do whatever the hell they want with no consequences. Bolstered by an impressive cast led by Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey (seen drinking a huge glass of wine in her establishing shot in a scene that will be familiar to any Game of Thrones fans), The Purge is infuriatingly improbable at times, but it remains entertaining and does a good job in world building for later sequels. Hardly a masterpiece, but an influential film nevertheless.
1. The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
One of the reasons horror sequels are so rarely successful is that they often lose the director, the writer, or both. This leads to uneven and disconnected films that have no through line. The Purge: Anarchy retains James DeMonaco in the big chair and is all the better for it. The second film in the Purge franchise is more focused than its predecessor, more sure of itself. It still feels there is a huge untapped resource here in terms of the concept – someone like Sam Raimi would have way more fun than this, heck, even Eli Roth would have a good go – but on the whole Anarchy does a good job in expanding the universe and adding a touch of satire. We are presented with a flavour of the financial motivations behind the purge. Who stands to gain?
DeMonaco’s sophomore effort also introduces us to Frank Grillo as Leo Barnes, a character who arrives straight out of an ’80s action movie rather than the world of horror, but it kinda works. It’s rare to see a fusion of gun fights, car chases and people in masks going on a murderous rampage, and while it won’t be to everyone’s taste, it’s an interesting change of pace.
The headline of sitting through this franchise is, as previously stated, great concept/poor execution. More actual executions would have been a good start…