Director: James DeMonaco
Starring: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, and Joseph Julian Soria
The Purge series has subtly become the most interesting franchise in horror today, despite the fact that it had to leave the horror genre behind and move into action to fully meet it’s potential. Even if it’s first entry wasn’t very good, it had such a fantastic premise to it’s world that it immediately became iconic. In spite of itself, it was embraced by the world. It’s now entered the lexicon and is shorthand for a dystopian future in the same way Escape From NY was in the 80s. But with the success of the first movie on such a minuscule budget, it allowed the sequel to expand and finally get into the premise of a 12 hour window of lawlessness that the first only kinda hinted at. And it was a really good movie, giving the world the B movie with some societal issues on it’s mind while mainly delivering some bloody goodness. It delved into the world and gave us something very interesting and very timely. It saw the anger in the world and the class issues plaguing the Country and it mined that stuff to craft something engaging. And with that being very successful, it allowed DeMonaco to go even more into the world he crafted and get more broader in scope. Could they grow and still keep the claustrophobic action/horror feel of the series?
Right off the bat, this movie starts in a much different way than the first two movies. Those two start a few hours before the Purge and introduce us to our characters before they get thrown into the shit. But this one starts in media res, showing us the massacre that leaves Elizabeth Mitchell with the motivation to shut the Purge down. And then it goes through a news item about her, and then cuts to the men that started the Purge. The New Founding Fathers. We had not seen such insight into those that started this and have benefited so. Which helps in the movies determination to be as subtle as a hammer to the head. These are the old money republicans that are killing this country and they will change the rules to benefit them. In this, that means they will get rid of the rule that excludes politicians from the Purge. This is so they can assassinate Mitchell, who is running for President and is very close to winning. But what they don’t take into account is the presence of badass Frank Grillo protecting her. And some surprises along the way.
The second movie had a very distinct John Carpenter feel to it, like it wanted to be Escape From NY. But it is this one that very much feels like a descendant of that franchise. Cause this one is about a badass having to protect a politician from killers in a city. They both have very cynical endings too, but this one’s ending feels a bit like a sucker punch. You think good things have been achieved, but it leaves you with the feeling that things are gonna get much worse for this world. It doesn’t hang the narrative on a simple revenge plot or focus on characters accidentally left out in the public during the Purge. This time, it’s people focusing on a goal to help things instead of simple survival. And the politics are so very on the nose here. It’s not subtle and it’s not trying to. This is a very angry movie, with a very pissed off and shockingly timely POV. I have to wonder how much they purposefully took from the real life Political game to inform this movie. Because it feels like it’s very much a sequel to the last one in terms of growth and politics, but it also feels way too current to be this lucky. I look at the very particular usage of White Supremacists as the muscle for the New Founding Fathers. In a year where a scumbag running for office doesn’t denounce the KKK from supporting him, that’s so very specific. And that happened months ago, so I don’t know how they got to it and where it fell in shooting but it’s very enriching to the narrative. Because all we know about these kinds of guys in the world would most definitely use these types of men, because they share similar goals. The Nazis may not be as dedicated to making money at the detriment to others, but there’s the need to put down poor minorities. And oh boy is this movie about the subjugation of the black race and the poor.
The world of the Purge is one where the powerful elite have convinced the country that they have a darkness in them and they need to release it once a year. There is no change in humanity. But what the cast of character they have assembled for us to focus on here is a direct refutation to that idea. Grillo, as we know from the last one, was a broken man out for revenge but overcame his hate. We see that Mitchell doesn’t allow herself to give in to the darkness that others would have allowed after her tragedy. Then there’s the three people on the street that tie into refuting the lack of change in people and the themes of the poor being put down. We have Mykelti Williamson, a shop owner who just wants to protect his store from looting with a dangerous past. There’s his protege, Soria, who came over from Mexico after having to do what he could to survive the Cartel hellscape he lived in. And then there’s Betty Gabriel, a woman from the streets with a big reputation as a hardened gangbanger that has changed her ways to protect people during the Purge. You even get to see a Militant group of anit Purgers trying to take down the Founding Fathers, and see how they manage to be more humane than the rule makers.
With Gabriel and Williamson, we very much get the picture of the 1% putting the rest down. Williamson is a man trying to get by, but his Purge Insurance is jacked up an insane amount hours before. Not to mention that that day he had to stop a shoplifter who in no uncertain terms tell him she’ll be back to get his ass. When she does come for him, it’s up to Gabriel to save the day. Not Grillo or Mitchell, who are there when it comes down to it. But a fellow neighbor. With this shoplifter, it’s played very broadly. She is the only one pitched at a very high level, mustache twirlingly evil and the only one actually participating in the Purge. But it gets to the heart of how the cold and money grubbing tactics of the 1% to destroy the poor manage to turn the poor on each other. Destroy from within and reap the benefits. We don’t see that stuff in the first two movies, it’s only hinted at. Getting into it makes this movie so very unique in this marketplace, as very few movies would have a very lefty stance that is a call to armed revolution.
All this follows in the footsteps of the last one, to continue to illuminate the world of this hell hole in less plot specific ways. The many different ways the world reacts to this Purge. From wide open death brawls to guillotine assisted beheadings and cars festooned with living people like mast heads. It makes this place feel real and lived in. All the tiny things that fill out the world are great. What else is great is the action. It’s very tight and condensed, never getting too elaborate. Very gritty and of the B movie roots. And to continue it’s shift away from Horror and into Action, it ends with Grillo having a final brawl with the main henchman of the Founding Fathers. Cause as we all know, every action hero needs one final brawl to end the movie.
Is this a perfect movie/franchise? No, not at all. But it has a palpable sense of anger, taking advantage of it’s B movie premise to make a point about the world. And to do so with a great deal of style and panache, reaching for the stars. And if it doesn’t exactly reach them in the most profound or subtle or artful ways, the fact that it does it at all is commendable. Very few movies can immediately be positioned as the movie to speak about an entire year, but this one does. It’s tapped into the bizarre and hateful world that we find ourselves in, a cousin in many ways to The Hateful Eight. Big, bloody and angry at the injustices of the world with no concrete answers on how to change things, it’s an enjoyably cynical movie for a cynical time that gives enough hope sprinkled throughout to make sure it isn’t completely miserable. I love this movie and the movie ends in such a delicious way, setting up some tantalizing stories for the future that make it even more of the time. Can’t wait to see where it goes.