One of the most successful film franchises is The Purge series. Created by James DeMonaco, this B-movie's conceit is that one night every year, all crime (including murder) is legal. This plays into all the best things we love about horror and thriller movies. There's a timelock, immediate tension, and you can travel all over the United States of America for the subsequent sequels.
But what does the movie series have to say about the country as a whole?
In a recent opinion piece for The New York Times, Blair McClendon said of the franchise, "These movies commit to portraying our society in a way that finely calibrated awards-season films rarely do. Oscar bait’s great sin is not artistic pretension; it’s a lack of curiosity. We have developed a tradition of quality for our big 'message' films—well shot, well acted, well made, redemptive, and toothless. The better fare is praised for humanizing its characters, as though the realization that the working class also falls in love, faces disappointment, and makes meaning were some sort of mind-bending epiphany. In these movies, a few good men can always outrun a history of violence. Realism reigns over the art form, yet it keeps returning to the same story: 'Things might be bad, but they’re getting better all the time.' In the real world you might ask: 'For whom have things been getting better?'"
I have to admit, I didn't think I would wake up this morning and read a scholarly essay on the Purge movies. But one thing I know is that the best horror and thriller movies have a lot to say about when they are made and the sociology of the country they are about.
We often think of the 70s paranoia films like The Parallax View, The Conversation, and Klute as being movies about America, but I think Blumhose has done an amazing job using horror films to talk about important issues.
We'll get to The Purge in a minute, but let's look at the obvious contenders.
Get Out is maybe their biggest and best title. It really emphasizes the divide between Americans who outwardly project that they're not racist, but hold a darkness within their heart.
The Hunt is a controversial title that looks at how far a certain group of elites will go for revenge.
And even titles who are not overtly political, like The Gift, have something to say about humanity and how we relate to one another. And what we get away with.
So, where does The Purge come into play?
Well, in the first movie, we see a rich white family killing a poor black person who's not supposed to be in their neighborhood. And the franchise evolved from there. From looters attacking a poor storefront owner, to a movie subtitled Election Year, which was about saving a candidate who wanted to end the violence, The Purge constantly forces the country to look at its open wounds.
And it is constantly daring us to be better by listening to the marginalized. The solution in The Purge is not to lock your doors and ignore the problem because you think you're rich enough or white enough that it will not affect you.
It's a story about people choosing to be challenged and acting accordingly. It's about them learning hard lessons or hard truths. And the people who do not learn... often die.
The nice thing about horror is that it's not afraid to show anything head-on. There's not much subtlety in this franchise, and the stories are better for it. That does not mean there's no nuance to the issues they present, but they also offer a solution to the problem.
As the column goes on to say, "Each film ultimately argues that the only way out is through collective action. Families, neighborhoods, revolutionary cells—all must band together if they expect to do so much as survive one night."
America is a cesspool of divisiveness and fighting. The only way it can be better is if we band together and make the changes necessary to end the shitshow and work on a brighter future. Maybe we need a metaphorical "purge" of our own.
Or maybe we just collectively need to look at what's happening and figure out how to make a stand with the people we trust... as well as the people who have been systematically cut out of every conversation.
Let me know what you think in the comments.