Imagine it. Every year, for one night only, all crime is legal, all emergency services are suspended – and anything goes. From this chillingly simple premise, 2013’s The Purge has become the horror franchise to beat, with fans lapping up two anarchic hit sequels and counting down the hours until this year’s much-anticipated origins story, The First Purge.
Political, satirical and socially charged, there’s far more to the series than freaks in blood-spattered rubber masks. Here’s everything you need to know…
THE ROOTS OF A HORROR PHENOMENON
The Purge began in the darkest recesses of James DeMonaco’s imagination. The writer-director grew up amidst everyday violence in the tough neighbourhoods of Brooklyn, but it took a road-rage incident to plant the movie’s nightmarish seed.
“We were cut off by this drunk guy who almost killed us,” he told Fandango. “My wife said in anger – and this is a doctor who helps people – ‘I wish we could all have one free one a year.’ I was like, ‘Whoa, honey!’ It stayed with me. Then Katrina happened, and the lack of response blew me away. All those things became this melting pot – this perfect storm – for this idea of a legalised annual holiday of violence.”
Straight out of the blocks, 2013’s The Purge threw a hand grenade into the horror genre, grossing a global 90 million and making the world distinctly edgy about answering the front door. But perhaps even more impressive was how the movie and its sequels fused political allegory and commentary on material wealth – while making you jump out of your skin. “James DeMonaco crafted a saga,” writes Forbes, “which pointed an explicit finger at the worst impulses in American society."
A THREE-PART MASTERCLASS IN FEAR
Set in 2022, the original Purge introduced the sinister New Founding Fathers of America: a far-right political party that sanctions one night of free-for-all violence to cull society’s poor and ultimately reduce crime. That first film centred on an affluent LA family who approve of the purges – until a masked mob demands they hand over a wounded stranger hiding in their home, prompting a moral dilemma and a whole lotta bloodshed.
Following in 2014, The Purge: Anarchy skilfully flipped perspectives, showing the purge from the blue-collar viewpoint of Carmen Ejogo’s plucky waitress and Frank Grillo’s Leo Barnes: a policeman bent on revenge for his son’s murder, who becomes the film’s troubled anti-hero.
In 2016, as the US presidential elections played out, The Purge: Election Year provided an alternate reality, following Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) as she campaigns against the purges and Barnes protects her from the mob. It was the most successful instalment so far – grossing 8 million – and also the most politicised.
THE HOTTEST HORROR SEQUEL OF 2018
The opening movies purposely left a trail of loose ends for this year’s The First Purge to tie up. This time around, we get a purge with a twist, as the dastardly politicos test their sociological theories via a contained experiment, enacting an initial night of lawlessness in New York’s Staten Island, with residents given bribes to participate.
Needless to say, the case study goes horribly wrong, spilling from the margins into mainstream America, and setting up the franchise’s narrative.
DeMonaco has stepped back from directing the film, but his pen is still spouting political vitriol in this latest instalment, with intelligent commentary on racial issues and a plot that follows Y’Lan Noel’s protagonist, William.
“What’s fun is that there’s an anti-hero,” says DeMonaco. “More than the previous films, there’s a singular hero in this movie. This is one man’s journey: an anti-hero who was inspired by Eastwood in Unforgiven, so it’s this very cool, modern kind of badass who redeems himself through the story. It’s going to be the most crowd-pleasing Purge movie – and the third act is so kick-ass!”
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