James DeMonaco was born in Brooklyn but spent eight years in Paris. When he came back to America, he “put a microscope” on his life after realizing the difference in the relationship our country has with guns. He stated, “I’m terrified for my country. So I think that cynicism seeps into the film. America itself becomes the canvas, instead of the haunted house, the canvas is America. We don’t need ghosts or vampires anymore when we’re just killing each other, you know?”
Then, a drunk driver nearly killed him and his wife and she said — she’s a doctor, mind you — “I wish we could all have one free murder a year.”
That’s how we got The Purge.
In 2014, the New Founding Fathers of America are voted into office, promising to fix the economic collapse. One of the ways that they do that is by passing a law sanctioning the Purge, an annual event where all crime is legal and emergency services are temporarily suspended.
Somehow, it works, because the news claims that the U.S. is crime-free and unemployment rates have dropped to 1%. However, that only works if you’re upper middle class and white, just one of the many ways that these movies — while a bit too on the nose — really reflect reality almost way too much.
The Purge (2013): Just like Sinister, the first movie in this series stars Ethan Hawke and really is there to lay the groundwork before the much more interesting sequel. Not that either movie is bad, but they create the world that the other film (or films) get to explore.
Hawke is architect James Sandin and his family — wife Mary (Lean Headey), son Charlie (Max Burkholder) and daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) — are aware that the Purge is coming but he’s invented a security system to protect them all. Well, it works until a stranger shows up injured and Zoey’s boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller) decides to bring a gun and confront James about their relationship.
What follows is a night of horror as the assembled neighbors, led by Grace Ferrin (Arija Bareikis), want the homeless man that asked for James’ help and to gain revenge against them as the Sandin’s wealth has come from all of them, as everyone needs the security system that he has invented to survive this night.
That mysterious man, known as the Stranger (Edwin Hodge), will become more important as the series continues. The budget for this was low and the idea of multiple Purges wouldn’t be possible, but DeMonaco said, “We only had 19 days to shoot and $2.7 million to work with.” And if he ever got the chance to do another, it would be like Escape from New York.
Good news. He got the chance.
The Purge: Anarchy (2014): Frank Grillo is the kind of actor that I love, someone who would be starring in Cannon movies if this was the 80s and instead is the lead in this movie as Leo Barnes, an LAPD Police Sergeant who wants to use Purge Night to avenge his son’s death, with the killer going free as the boy died on Purge Night.
Before the sixth Purge can begin, a resistance group led by Carmelo Johns (Michael K. Williams) and Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge), the Stranger from the first movie, hijack the American media to denounce the government and the fact that the Purge has reduced poor and non-white people to target practice.
The other storyline in this concerns waitress Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo), her daughter Cali (Zoë Soul) and her terminally ill father Rico (John Beasley) who has sold himself to a rich family as someone to be hunted so that Eva and Cali can live in confront after his death.
There’s also Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), a couple ready to leave one another, who also are trapped in the inner city on the worst night of the year.
Complicating matters is that the Purge has not worked out how its creators thought: people wait to enact revenge based on personal grudges, killing friends and family instead of random poor people. The government has sent out death squads to up the body count and destroy the lower class.
The Purge: Election Year (2016): It’s kind of crazy how The Purge finally found its real footing three movies in, moving Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) into a Secret Service hero protecting Senator Charlene Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a U.S. Senator running for President on an anti-Purge platform. She has a true belief in this, as her family was killed during the first Purge.
The New Founding Fathers of America use the Purge to try and kill Roan legally, as this year government officials have no immunity. This film also goes all in on just how close the NFFA is to right-wing religious zealots, even praying for death in church and having a sacrifice on an altar. Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor) is the other Presidential front runner and he’s been targeted by the underground led by Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge).
Of all The Purge movies, this feels the most like something John Carpenter would make, as it feels like a non-stop chase and the good guys up against the wall for the entire running time. It expands the world of the film without forgetting the normal people caught up in the Purge, those truly battling for their lives and not just arguing about money and politics.
This is also the most violent in the series with 116 deaths, nearly one every single minute. It also shows that the rest of the world has begun to be part of the event with death tourism increasing along with the government sponsored death squads.