As a franchise, James DeMonaco’s The Purge is now into its third and potentially final feature, as a steady trilogy of movies that have survived off its striking concept, the hypothetical scenario of having one day a year where all crime is legal – resulting in many asking “what would I do in that situation?” Well, chances are you probably wouldn’t be wandering the streets with the leader of a major political party in the build up to an election, because that would be inviting trouble. Alas, that’s exactly what lays the foundations for this endeavour to thrive off.
Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is that very character, who having suffered greatly during a fateful Purge night 18 years ago when here family were savagely murdered, has strived tirelessly ever since to put an end to this barbaric event. Though crime rates are generally lower across the States, she believes the day is designed for the rich and powerful to murder the poor and the vulnerable. Her campaign is going well, and with an election on the horizon she believes it’s imperative she doesn’t hide away in a rich mansion like her opposition are, and so steadies herself for a night in, with the loyal Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) on hand to protect her. But when the rules are altered and for the first time on Purge day political members can be killed legally – she becomes a target, and having been betrayed by her security, she takes to the streets with Leo, where they encounter local store owner Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson) who is vying to protect his store from vandals, with colleague Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) and the collective join forces, just wanting to survive the night and live another day.
The first Purge, which starred Ethan Hawke in the lead role, thrived off a sense of simplicity, all set in one house in what was effectively real time. This endeavour, and much like the sequel, is too ambitious in scope, attempting to fit too much into the narrative. In turn we deviate away from the concept that makes for such engaging cinema, and instead this takes on the form of a by-the-numbers survival flick, all too generic in its execution. That being said the profound sense of pertinency that lingers throughout enriches the viewer’s experience, as a trilogy of films with a lot to say, studying a socio-political landscape that scrutinises over the class system in America, and the flawed, farcical presidential system (which is rather relevant at the moment to say the least). The narrative does grow somewhat overstated in parts, however, and though relatable to a degree there are certain moments that cheapen and undermine the whole thing. Thankfully Williamson turns in a terrific display as the stand-out character Joe who provides the film with an injection of comedy and moments of light-relief that are immensely valuable.
It’s great to see a director in DeMonaco who has carried out his vision across three films, as something so rare these days with franchises so often changing hands throughout. As such we’ve seen a linearity in terms of tone, with a filmmaker seeing this right from its very conception to the bitter end. It’s just a shame they aren’t a little bit better.