The Purge: Birth of a new franchise?
It is a wonderful world. All is well. Crime is at an all-time low. The economy is booming. It is a bright new dawn for America. Except for the 12 hours once a year when panic grips the nation. When anarchy reigns and citizens are permitted, nay encouraged, to release the beast and rampage through the streets in an orgy of hedonistic violence. No repercussions, no punishment. Just a purified soul, cleansed of all it’s frustration and hatred. For another year at least.
This is the simplistically brilliant concept of The Purge, the latest horror film from the people who brought you the Paranormal Activity series and 8mm snuff film Sinister. Set in 2022 USA, the country is led by the New Founding Fathers of America, who have introduced a twelve hour period once a year in which all crime is legal. They call it Purge Night, a time for the population to indulge their sadistic side in order to release the hatred and anger that builds up over the course of the year. The film hints at socio-political issues, raises questions surrounding class structures and offers a glimpse at an Orwellian political regime. On a more basic level, the bloody chaos provides endless possibilities for crimewave based adventures.
To be clear, the first outing is a total mess. A bland home invasion narrative in the manner of Panic Room, Funny Games, and The Strangers; a tip of cap that teeters dangerously close to total rip off. Plagiarism is the least of its worries however when compared to the predictable dialogue, broad characters, and glaring absence of scares. There is a distinct lack of explanation regarding the motivation of key characters which proves baffling. Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of the film however is the representation of Adelaide Kane’s character Zoey Sandin. As the daughter of wealthy couple Ethan Hawke and Lana Hedley, she spends the entirety of the film dressed like an extra from Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, in a white pressed shirt and plaid mini-skirt. The camera lingers on her for an uncomfortably long amount of time, particularly in sequences with her boyfriend Henry (Tony Oller), which provides little more than crass titillation. The over sexualisation of a character, who early in the film is determined to be too-young to be dating an 18 year old, proves far more disturbing than anything that occurs on Purge Night.
It is putting it nicely to describe The Purge as a missed opportunity, but despite all its problems, at the heart of the film there is an interesting premise. With notions of government endorsed barbarism and nationwide chaos, the decision to contain the film within the four walls of a family home with a dreary siege storyline is baffling. This is what sequels are for. They expand on an original premise, taking it to a bigger setting and on a grander scale. So often a sequel will fail to live up to the the promise of the original. Here the only way to go is up. If producer Jason Blum can find enough material to make four Paranormal Activity films (with a fifth on the way) from a fairly flimsy haunted house gimmick, then surely The Purge offers a never-ending supply of ideas for future installments.
With the first film commenting on the gaps between the rich and poor without exploring them properly, a deeper examination into class structures would be a good starting point. With Purge Night being little more than an excuse to cull the lower classes, there is room to show the struggle for survival from the perspective of a disadvantaged family. This would shift the setting from the relative comfort of suburbia to an urban war zone. A more in-depth look at the New Founding Fathers of America would also make for compelling viewing, with an examination into how they gained the near cult-like obedience of the population. A prequel showing conditions in the country that lead to their controversial appointment would be intriguing, while a film in which the people finally rise up against them could make for a thrilling final installment. At any rate, America is a melting pot of different cultures and classes, the potential scenarios are endless. The groundwork laid in the first film allows for the franchise to be truly innovative by spanning multiple genres. The original film failed to offer a satisfying horror film, something that would be worth returning to, but such is the richness of the idea that later offerings could be portrayed as gritty war films, intense political thrillers or even venturing into black comedy.
Largely disappointing reviews have not seemed to dampen the enthusiasm of curious cinema goers, making an impressive assault on worldwide box offices. A respectable haul of roughly $3.5 million in its first week saw it climb to number six in the UK box office chart. Its opening weekend in America has proved even more profitable, earning over $36 million, displacing the massively successful Fast and Furious 6 at the top of the charts and doubling the total brought in by the new Owen Wilson/Vince Vaughn comedy The Internship. It is no surprise therefore, that Universal have already announced plans for a sequel, with Blum proving he is the current king of horror franchises. For the premise to reach its full potential, he will have to raise the $3 million budget of the first film significantly in order to expand the universe. Based on the early box office takings, it may be worth the investment.
Five Potential Purges We’d Like to See
The Purge 2: Panic on the Streets on Detroit
A parallel to the first film, the setting shifts to the slums of Detroit as we follow a low-income family and their battle to stay alive on the dangerous city streets. After their home is trashed by looters, an immigrant family have no choice but to look for sanctuary elsewhere. Jean Dujardin is the father desperately trying to keep his family safe, from the muggers, murderers, rapists and looters who roam the city looking to indulge their bloodlust.
The Purge: The Beginning
A prequel that would explore the origins of the new political regime. After the murder of his wife in an attempted car-jacking, up-and-coming politician Michael Fassbender introduces a zero tolerance policy to crime. Embraced by a frightened population, he is enthusiastically swept into office on a wave of popularity. Once there he begins to form a new vision of America, starting with the introduction of the New Founding Fathers. Once absolute power has corrupted absolutely, the notion of Purge Night is finally introduced as his final act of revenge on the people that killed his wife.
The Purge: Final Takedown
After spending a decade forming an underground army, freedom fighter Lana Hedley returns to the franchise to mount a daring raid on the Whitehouse in an effort to overthrow the New Founding Fathers, consisting of Paul Giamatti, Peter Dinklage and Cate Blanchett, who have to resort to drastic actions in order to protect their regime. The film is a tip of the cap to the first film in the franchise, returning to the home invasion narrative, but upping the scale by embracing the ideas of social unrest hinted at in the orignal film.
The Purge: Fastfood Frenzy
Christophe Waltz plays the manager of a popular fast food restaurant, whose employees turn on him after years of abuse. They give a double cheeseburger and arm him with a spatula, and give him a fifteen minute head start. The rules are simple, he has to stay alive until the end of Purge night or he ends up in the deep fat fryer. A deadly game of cat and mouse through the streets of small town America ensues as he struggles to avoid being on tomorrow’s menu.
The Purge: Border Run
An attempt to move the franchise away from violent crime and branch out into broad comedy. After a successful raid on the San Diego Zoo, Nicholas Cage has until 7am to get a stolen giraffe to the Mexican border to sell it to smugglers. He is pursued the entire time by a craze animal enthusiast (Michael Shannon), who will stop at nothing to add the giraffe to his collection. Along the way he is befriended by an off duty police-officer (Jessica Chastain), who assists him in his journey but makes it clear that if he does not make the 7am deadline, he will be immediately arrested once Purge Night is over.
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