Are You Ready for the Purge?

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I am a shameless proponent of the movie The Purge (2013) and The Purge: Anarchy (2014). Why? Because I believe this franchise contains important contemporary American film themes.
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures


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purge anarchy banner 1Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Let’s face it. The horror marquee at your local theater most often reads like the remainder section of your local bookstore. It’s filled with installments of worn series which have been extended far beyond their creative integrity, multiple (and often unnecessary) remakes of classic horror films, and the heavy-on-gore / light-on-idea conventional serial killer and slasher titles. The Purge films, on the other hand, clearly started with a good idea, creatively executed. And it’s a good, relevant idea, even if not entirely original. As the Villains Wiki notes, the plot may draw from a Star Trek episode called “Return of the Archons,” in which the humanoid inhabitants of an entire planet live a monotonous life, except for the Red Hour, when everyone commits crimes for 12 hours straight.

And there you have it. For me, there is no substitute for the good movie idea. All the slick packaging, provocative promotion, and big-budget execution is no substitute for a good idea. And that’s something the Purge franchise has in spades!

 

purge anarchy banner 2Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

The films’ success starts with an intriguing backstory, courtesy of the New Founding Fathers of America, who enacted The Purge by passing the 28th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. This Amendment legalizes all crime, up to and including murder, each year, “beginning on June 20 at sunset, officially starting at 7PM, and ending at sunrise, June 21, at 7AM.” Like all good government statutes, this doesn’t mean exactly what it says, as high government officials themselves are excluded (“granted immunity”) and cannot be harmed. Officially, The Purge is designed to act as a catharsis for the American people, letting them vent all their negative impulses. Supposedly this venting has been “scientifically proven” to keep people from performing destructive acts the rest of the year. Moreover, this venting, the government claims, lowers the crime rate, the poverty rate and the unemployment rate. Suddenly, America has as “open border” policy – and no immigration problem.

However, as the events of the films unfold, the true purpose of The Purge is revealed: a tool to help an oppressive American government further its ultra-conservative agenda. In the first movie, a predictable private-school frat boy posse hunts an African-American man. In a plot twist, The Purge has interesting, unexpected blowback, when an upper middle class family uses the excuse of the Purge to vent their economic frustrations on a similar family who has made a large amount of money from Purge, presumably profiteering at their expense. Similarly, the second entry in the franchise again reveals the NFFA’s socioeconomic agenda, this time by portraying a slave auction where hunting targets are auctioned off. It also takes on the blowback issue, where mainstream youth have car trouble, do not make it home on time, and thus become targets themselves.

 

Purge Anarchy Banner 3Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

The hard truth of horror films is that, in a successful horror film, the subtext reveals the otherwise deeply buried fears of the audience. By cloaking itself in the horror film’s demand for a visceral response, the subtext of a horror film is able to express that which we are otherwise unable to admit to ourselves. So we scream during the film, then leave talking about the killings, the blood, the intricate hunts and all the other plot details, while glossing over the set-up and ignoring the backstory.

But the subtext (OK, in these films it’s not all that sub) of the Purge franchise is also crucial. The first entry in the franchise was released in 2013, during a the long-continuing red state v. blue state turmoil over such issues as immigration and unemployment. The second entry of the franchise hit the screens as the immigration issue became a crisis due to the unprecedented number of unaccompanied child immigrants from Central America (unfortunately for the film’s box office, bad timing meant this story was soon eclipsed by the wars in Gaza and Iraq). Hidden in the political rhetoric is the sense that “they” (the poor, the unemployed, the immigrants) should just go away . . . which is just a small step away from making them go away by imprisonment or deportation . . . which in turn is just a small step away from . . . well, from the next step.

And the next step? Could they REALLY do that?

Could WE really do that?

“The Purge: Anarchy” was released July 18, 2014, and is now playing at a theater near you! Here’s a look at the trailer:

 

purge anarchy 2014Photo Credit: Universal Pictures


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