Monday , 17 December 2018

The First Purge was only the beginning

This is not a test. This is your Emergency Broadcast System announcing the commencement of the Annual Purge….

The world today can be a pretty difficult and frustrating place to live, with political turmoil, war and natural disasters often brought about by our biggest threat, climate change, affecting many across the globe. Here in America, the country is divided like it hasn’t been since the Civil War a century and a half ago. In its current state, the minority rules, thanks to an antiquated electoral system and an election process where one side does everything in its power to keep the other side from exercising their right to vote. Though this minority has the power, and has had it their way their entire lives, they are led to believe that they are the ones being oppressed and dismissed, and are incited to feel hate and anger towards those who are actually the ones being marginalized. Emboldened by a ‘leader’ who fans the flames of discontent and looks to divide us through fear rather than bring us together with common goals, those lacking strength of character look to blame others for their woes and violence is often the inevitable result. Now, what if those violent urges were not only encouraged, but made legal to act upon? Thus is the premise for the very successful horror film franchise known as The Purge.

In the world of The Purge, a new political party in the U.S., the New Founding Fathers of America has risen to power. Due to rampant crime, rising unemployment and civil unrest, they have instituted a radical new law that allows, once a year, for a 12 hour period, all crime, including murder, to be legal. The idea is meant to serve the purpose of letting people let off steam to an extreme degree, though the actual reasons are far more nefarious . There are some exceptions to the law, though, as government officials of a certain level and above are exempt from being harmed. And while official emergency services such as fire and police are not available, medical personnel brave enough to traverse the streets are generally given a pass to attend to those in need. So you end up having two factions – those who purge, and those who don’t. Those participating in the Purge are generally made up of two classes – the lower class who roam the streets brandishing machetes, axes and firearms in search of victims, and the wealthy upper class who have hapless souls brought to them where they can purge in a more ‘civilized’ fashion. Those refraining from the Purge attempt to hole up in a safe haven, perhaps a boarded up church, a well-guarded office building or their own home that has been equipped with a security system.

Will you right some wrongs? Will you heal? Will you hurt?

The first Purge, not The First Purge, which was released this past summer (we’ll get to that one shortly), but the very first film in the series, The Purge, which was released not that long ago, in 2013, was basically a home invasion thriller, where a family (Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey) tries to survive the night tucked away in their supposedly safe and secure house. 2014 saw The Purge franchise take it to the streets in The Purge: Anarchy, as an off-duty police sergeant (Frank Grillo) has his own purge mission sidetracked when he happens upon several others who were unable to find shelter before the Purge got underway. In 2016, fittingly, we saw The Purge: Election Year, where that cop now heads security for a U.S. Senator (Elizabeth Mitchell) seeking a bid for the Presidency, based on a platform of eradicating the Purge, which makes her a target of the powers-that-be that want to keep the status quo. That brings us to The First Purge, which was actually the last Purge film to be released, this past 4th of July here in the States, with the rest of the world soon to follow. Got all that?

Do not purge! Do not participate!

The First Purge serves as a prequel to the franchise, showing us how this new law of the land, what would become the 28th Amendment, got its start. It begins as an experiment by the NFFA, in that bastion of civilization known as Staten Island, New York. For twelve hours, all crime will be legal. Those electing to stay at home on the Island will be paid for their service, as will those who participate in the Purge. The idea is that this will serve as a ‘societal catharsis,’ wherein citizens can release their pent-up tensions and frustrations, ultimately reducing crime over the rest of the year. In actuality, it is meant to rid the nation of what’s deemed by the upper class to be the dregs of humanity – the poor.  By depopulating the lower classes, the NFFA won’t have to spend as much supporting them. This is deemed by protesters as a means of monetizing and incentivizing  murder. To monitor the night’s events, purgers are equipped with special eye lenses that capture the action as it unfolds. It not only can let one know who is in on the Purge, it also gives their eyes a creepy glow.

Of all The Purge films, The First Purge is probably the most political as well as being the grittiest in showing how its protagonists live. Nya (Lex Scott Davis), an activist against the Purge, and her younger brother, Isaiah (Joivan Wade), who wants to purge as an act of revenge, live in an apartment with a leaky sink in a building where the elevator doesn’t work. Every day, not just Purge Day, is a struggle to survive. Nya’s ex-boyfriend, Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), is the neighborhood’s drug lord, who’s forced to protect not only his business but those he cares about. Thrown into the mix is the evil-looking Skeletor (Rotimi Paul), who’s all too anxious to get his Purge on. That most of these actors aren’t as well known to general moviegoing audiences only adds to the sense of realism. Noel, especially, has a powerful, commanding presence and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him become a full-fledged action star in the future. While these characters battle it out on the streets, the NFFA is watching over the proceedings, led by Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh), who may be more than just an observer, and Dr. May Updale (Oscar-winning actress, Marisa Tomei), whose job it is to analyze the data coming in so as to determine the effectiveness of the Purge.

It doesn’t take much of a leap to equate these proceedings to what is going on in the U.S. today. Although the NFFA has succeeded the Democratic and Republican parties in the film, they are really just an extreme form of Republicans, a totalitarian regime that caters to the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. OK, it’s not that extreme from what exists today. Instead of weeding out the lower echelons of society by allowing them to purge, today’s right-wing Conservatives in power look to ‘cull the herd,’ so to speak, by taking away their health care, locking up minorities over minor drug charges and quieting their voices by disenfranchising their voting power through gerrymandering and other voter suppression tactics. It is outright racism at work. And when a supposed leader refuses to denounce Nazis, the KKK and other racist groups, it only emboldens them to act on their anger and hate. And in a time when our nation is divided like it hasn’t been in a long, long time, where we need someone to bring us together, instead, we have someone who looks to split us even further apart. America currently doesn’t have a leader, it has an instigator.

So, as The First Purge ends, it’s been deemed a success, with a nationwide roll-out expected soon, which we know will occur based on the preceding films. What may have been a surprise to audiences who stayed through the credits, was learning that a Purge 10-episode television series event was coming to the USA Network a mere two months away. Legalized murder and mayhem was coming to the small screen!

Step into the invisible!

In The Purge: The Series, we are introduced to and follow three separate character storylines. There’s ex-Marine, Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria), who’s in desperate search for his younger sister, Penelope (Jessica Garza), who has fallen in with a cult that offers up its flock as a sacrifice to the Purge. Then there’s Jane (Amanda Warren), a finance executive who has been passed over for promotion by her leering boss, David (William Baldwin, Backdraft). Finally, we have Jenna and Rick Betancourt (Hannah Anderson, the sexy pathologist from last year’s Jigsaw and Colin Woodell), whose charitable organization may get a much needed lift if they’re willing to sell out, and sell their souls, to the NFFA. Adding to the couple’s predicament is Lila (Lili Simmons, Cinemax’ Banshee), who not only has a past with both of them, but is the daughter of high-ranking NFFA members. Also on hand are cult leader, Tavis (Fiona Dourif, Curse of Chucky, Cult of Chucky), Joe (Lee Tergesen, Oz, Wayne’s World 1 & 2), an armored avenger with an unknown purpose, and Pete the Cop (Dominic Fumusa), who runs an establishment off-limits to the Purge, and to whom Miguel turns to for help. Little do they know, but these disparate people, from different levels of society, will see their lives come together as they try to survive this deadly night.

The great liquidator of our time!

If one had any doubts whether a successful film franchise like The Purge could or would work as a television series, those doubts have been laid to rest alongside the many victims of this annual event. Having 10 hour-long (actually 40-something minute) episodes opens the world of The Purge to a much wider range of storytelling as we’re able to follow a greater number of characters with different backgrounds and agendas. As the Purge is a nationwide event (that’s looking to expand to other countries), it’s only logical that there would be many stories to tell, in different cities, suburbs or the country, although cities make the more interesting locales due to their larger, more condensed populations. Here, we get further evidence of the clash between the classes, as the wealthy throw lavish parties, and may even partake in a purge or two of those below them, while the working class struggle not only to pay the bills, but to survive another day. For the rich, the rest are nothing but victims to be exploited for entertainment, if not their own dark impulses and desires. And while it is disturbing to see those who are unable and unwilling being served up as victims to those whose spirits are empty, but their pockets are full, it is especially unsettling to see those who have been beaten, scarred and irreparably damaged, offering themselves up willingly to be purged for the greater good. As is usually the case when it comes to cults, the flock are being lied to, much like those who continue to support our man-child in the white house today. Whenever there are those who are easily swayed, there will be those who will take advantage of them.

We’re making a deal with the Devil.

While it takes The Purge series a couple of episodes or so to get going as we get to know the various characters, once the commencement of the Purge begins, it’s full speed ahead. Especially compelling is Miguel’s relentless quest to find his sister and the various obstacles he encounters along the way, like ‘the Gauntlet.’ When he joins forces with Pete the Cop, the two ex-military men make for a formidable team, using tactical maneuvers they’ve learned in the field to outsmart their adversaries. The violence can be jarring at times, as all sorts of weaponry is used by those purging, though none is more brutal than a point-blank shot to the head. In the world of The Purge, the NRA profits off the increased weapons sales leading up to each year’s Purge, and they use that money to make sure the politicians they’ve bought keep the Purge in place. Indeed, it’s similar to the NRA profiting whenever there’s a mass shooting in the U.S., as gun lovers buy more weaponry in fear of tougher gun laws which never happen, at least not on a federal level. Because here too, the NRA has a lock on the Republican Party, which refuses to enact any meaningful legislation that could reduce the scourge of gun violence and death in this country. And let’s face it, while some gun owners surely do own them as a means of protecting their families, there are a great many who use them to compensate for their own weaknesses and fears, even hunters, who get a sense of power over the helpless animals they kill. Though guns aren’t the only method of killing in The Purge, they are the most prevalent. There’s also an hypocrisy at work here, as anyone at any age is allowed to purge, just as most states don’t restrict certain gun ownership with age limits. As Penelope complains at one point, “so I can kill people tonight, but I can’t drink?” 

Another fact brought to light in the show is that during every Purge, three women are harmed for every man, a seemingly lopsided stat being that the majority of purgers are men. Yet this is on par with today’s society where women are much more frequently the victim of domestic violence. In the world of The Purge, this is known as ‘gendercide,’ and it’s one of the more disturbing results of this annual event.  But one wonders, if crime is indeed down significantly as the NFFA proclaims, why continue with the Purge? As someone asks, “If purging really worked, if everyone actually got better, wouldn’t we stop needing it.”

May God be with you all.

So, what’s next for the world of The Purge? Well, as viewers saw at the end of the last episode, it stated that a new season is coming soon, which means sometime in 2019, most likely around the same time in the fall, though perhaps earlier in the summer. Whether we’ll see any of the surviving characters from the first season, or we’ll get an entirely new cast, or perhaps a combination of both, remains to be seen. Also, where does this leave the theatrical film series, which has proven to be very successful and quite profitable. As we wait to find out, we hope The Purge remains just as it is, a form of entertainment that warns us of what could happen if we let our fears grow into hate, to the point where violence ensues, whether sanctioned or not. If we’re not careful, our friendly next door neighbor could one day turn out to be not-so-friendly after all.

— by Brian de Castro

2 comments

  1. I Love the Purge & can not get enough. I am looking forward to all Purge endeavors. Xoxo

    • Agreed. They have a good thing going with The Purge, with a second season coming our way next year, but hopefully, some more films as well.

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