When The Purge premiered, viewers gobbled it up. In times of peace, this was an entertaining horror film. Don’t get me wrong, the original definitely had something to say. While not an overt commentary, it is an obvious statement on privilege, an examination of surface appearance versus reality. On the outside, everything is hunky dory; everyone has a job, crime is at a record low, everything is a big ol’ slice of warm apple pie. However, brewing underneath the surface is the horrific consequence of have and have-not mentality.
For those not familiar, The Purge centers around the idea that in the future, crime has been eradicated. This, however, has come at a cost. For one night a year, all crime is 100% legal. All emergency services are suspended. The wealthy are holed up in their fortress-like homes, able to afford the protection that a night of purging brings. Or, they are hunting down those who do not have the luxury, justifying it as their American-born right to do so.
Personally, I was thrilled when The Purge franchise leaned into its political undertones in its two sequels. The third installment, Election Year, shows how those in power manipulate the rules to come out on top. Even smaller pieces of the puzzle were incredibly thought provoking. For instance, a shop owner is forced to stay out and protect his store on Purge night when his “Purge insurance” is suddenly harshly increased the day before. At the time of release, election chaos was ensuing in the USA, leading many to jokingly refer to Election Year as a place the country may be headed. It was widely received as a cautionary tale, viewed as someone standing on the edge of a cliff might fleetingly think, “What if I jumped?”
I think we can agree: the country jumped.
In the weeks leading up to the release of the anticipated prequel, I have seen all kinds of viewpoints popping up on social media. Many are excited, feeling that it speaks to their beliefs that a corrupt democracy is no democracy at all. Some mock it as a cash grab. And still others feel that politics shouldn’t have a place in their entertainment.
As a whole, horror is a largely niche market. So it begs the question – why is there so much conversation about The First Purge’s place in the cinematic universe this time around?
To me, politics should be a part of horror movies. Horror movies are the ultimate social commentary. The best ones take our fears of the everyday and twist them to make us squirm, or make us think. What could be scarier than considering the consequences of one careless vote, one closed door meeting, or one passed bill? In The Purge series, this has largely been the case. It has been seen as entertainment, but entertainment that will maybe spark a “what if…?” debate around the water cooler the next day.
The bottom line is that Election Year was something that was seen as a possible, but way in the future, scenario. Knowing how the series rolls out, introducing a prequel scares people for one reason and one reason only. If Election Year was seen as an all-too-feasible, but ultimately far-off future, a prequel to how that was achieved feels like the present that is hurtling toward that end game. Americans are living that reality now, and facing that is a frightening thought.
While I doubt that The First Purge will be seen as polished political commentary or the film of the year by any means, I do have a couple of predictions.
It will be more widely viewed than its predecessors. There are people who haven’t seen the others who will feel drawn to it because it suddenly doesn’t feel impossible. As a result, it will be more harshly criticized, and seen in a much more somber light. It is impossible to view this movie as “just for fun” in today’s political climate.
I also feel that this movie will receive very polarizing reviews as a consequence. This one is going to press some buttons. I am not American. I don’t live in the US. Yet, I am stressed daily just watching the news. I can’t even imagine the anxiety in the lives of most Americans right now. Depending on how it’s handled, The First Purge could ironically be a release for many Americans. “SEE?” they’ll say as they leave the theater, “I’m NOT crazy. This is what could happen.” For those claiming that this prequel is a cash grab in an overdone series, they haven’t chosen to see the message in it until now. Maybe it hits too close to home for them. Or maybe they just weren’t ready.
Do I expect The First Purge to be the greatest movie ever made? No.
Do I expect everyone to love it? No.
Do I expect that everyone will choose to see the parallels to how we live today? No.
But do I expect this movie to have something to say? HELL YES.
No pressure, Blumhouse, but the ball’s in your court. Make it good. Make it relevant. And make it count.