For the uninitiated, The Purge films are based upon a compelling concept — the terrifying idea that, for one night every year, all crime (including murder and rape) is legal in the U.S. This fictional horror began in 2014 when America’s New Founding Fathers (a far-right, totalitarian party) took power amid an economic collapse. The party drove unemployment below 5% and practically eliminated crime, largely due to the annual purge ritual, which commenced in 2018 and allowed people to “release the beast” while emergency services were suspended. The fourth film, The First Purge, arrives on the Fourth Of July, and there’s little reason to expect a poor box-office performance.
In fact, the first three films — The Purge (2013), The Purge: Anarchy (2014), and The Purge: Election Year (2016) — have been insanely successful. Each film scored progressively higher ticket sales (with two grossing over $100 million, globally, on low budgets ranging between $3-10 million) for Blumhouse Productions. And in September, USA Network and Syfy will debut The Purge TV show, which franchise creator James DeMonaco promises will go deeper into the “celebration” as experienced by a yet-undisclosed small city.
Given that the annual purges only go down for eight years (Election Year officially ended them near the conclusion), it’s remarkable that the franchise — which proudly embraces a B-movie aesthetic — has enough fuel for a TV show on top of the four films. Yet producers are pulling this off, while also making impressive inclusion efforts.
1. The Purge Films Succeeded By Satirizing Our Times
As The Purge was originally conceived, the franchise was set in the not-so-distant future, and each sequel has grown even more timely and relevant against the backdrop of contemporary America. The films were never critical successes, and, at times, they suffered from toothless execution. Yet one can’t deny the analogous nature of these onscreen events to reality. Life isn’t exactly mirroring art (yet), but as U.S. politics have grown more combative, and the disenfranchised are driven further away from the so-called American dream, audiences have grown more fond of showing up to see these characters turn the tables, in often violent ways.
The franchise began clumsily in terms of honoring diversity and inclusion, but by the end of The Purge, the female lead held the cards. While showing the purge’s effects on suburbia, the most straight-up horror entry of the series (a twist on the home-invasion subgenre) saw Ethan Hawke (James), Lena Headey (Mary), and family being terrorized by a group of young adults led by a lead villain who channeled James Spader from Pretty In Pink. The yuppie “gang” showed up in pursuit of an unwelcome guest — a wounded black character called the Stranger (Edwin Hodge) — of the family, who had to choose whether to aid the purgers or, you know, act like humans.
The film concluded about as intensely as one would imagine after murder and mayhem aplenty. Mary, a housewife, held court in front of a group of purge-partying neighbors who had entered her home while harboring homicidal resentments and intents. Backed up by the Stranger, Mary slammed a vindictive neighbor’s head into a glass table while declaring an end to the evening’s killing. Thus ended the horrors of that year, but more was to come.