It’s been 5 years since the release of The Purge. A groundbreaking horror film from Blumhouse where all crime in America is made legal for one grisly night a year. Since then, the world of the infamous crime night has been explored through 3 different installments; The Purge: Anarchy, The Purge: Election Year, and this year’s The First Purge. Four films in, I’m taking a look back through the murderous universe to determine where the movies rank in the series. Be warned, SPOILERS are abundant. Lets get into it!
4. The First Purge (2018)
It’s hard to really expect greatness when viewing the fourth entry to a film series. Even with low expectations, The First Purge still felt like a missed opportunity. What’s truly missing in this film compared to its ancestors is anything unique. We’ve seen this movie before. The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) once again play the villainous role, sending out mercenaries to “get the murderous ball rolling” so to speak. This time, they target a cast of economically-poor residents on Staten Island, who must power their way through the killing convoys.
Unlike The Purge, Anarchy, and Election Year, there’s no special plot device here to separate it from the pack, other than it’s the “first” purge night. Also lost, and perhaps most importantly, is James DeMonaco’s directing. DeMonaco took a politically-charged idea and turned it into horror in an expert fashion. The First Purge simply isn’t scary. In director Gerard McMurray’s vision, missing are the visually stunning & creepy environments, the claustrophobic set pieces, and the overall sense of dread. What’s left can only be defined as a political action film with slasher elements, with a sprinkle or two of horror.
3. The Purge (2013)
The Purge films are a bit of an anomaly. How often does it happen where the first movie of a series come in at 3rd place? There’s no mistake here. The Purge plays out as a home-invasion suspense/thriller based on the concept that what the perpetrators are doing is legal. That’s really all that the idea of a country-wide “purge night” is needed for here. Fresh off of bare bones budget hits such as Sinister and Insidious, Blumhouse Productions continued the trend here. Unlike those films, however, you can really feel the $3 million budget constraints in this one. With an idea bursting with possibilities, we are stuck in Ethan Hawk’s house as his neighbors break their way in.
Don’t get the wrong idea, there are fantastic concepts here that birthed what we all know and love as “purge night” (the unsettling masks, the AWESOMELY SPINE-TINGLING alert siren, etc.). The Purge just can’t outrank the following entries in my ranking because it is frustratingly contained in a world begging to be explored. In a way, Blumhouse and co. really nailed this one if their true intentions at the time were to launch a Purge film series.
2. The Purge: Election Year (2016)
The change from #3 to #2 on this list is a huge one. In Election Year, the world of “the purge” is wide open. The American public is becoming disillusioned with the annual purge, and are about to elect a presidential candidate who has promised to put an end to the night. The NFFA see the writing on the wall, and make a nefarious change to the purge night “rules”; no one, including high-ranking government officials, are off-limits.
While the plot of the government trying to assassinate a political rival seems to fall into my complaints about The First Purge, there’s so much more to like here that I forgive it. Most importantly, action takes a backseat to horror in Election Year. The plot expands to include a shop owner and his immigrant protegé out to protect their deli from destruction, a vigilante ambulance service, and an underground resistance to the NFFA. In addition to a tight and fulfilling plot, Election Year may boast the strongest cast of the film series altogether, including the return of Frank Grillo and Edwin Hodge. Lastly, the film is shot absolutely beautifully and captures a horrific atmosphere. Director James DeMonaco’s importance to the Purge series cannot be overstated.
1. The Purge: Anarchy
As a horror fanatic, I keep a ranked list of every horror film I’ve ever seen. Right along with the ranks of Halloween, The Thing, and Insidious sits The Purge: Anarchy. The second entry in the series, this film gets everything right. Breaking out of the claustrophobic home setting of The Purge, the second entry takes the story to the streets of Los Angeles. There, Sergeant Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) decides against seeking revenge against the drunk driver who killed his son, and instead guides a group of survivors through the infamous night.
Anarchy contains everything you ever wanted from a Purge film. The visuals are phenomenal, as the empty streets of LA at night make for a truly haunting setting. The “purgers” are terrifying. The cast puts together a great performance, as I connected with the characters and wanted them to survive the night. The climax of the film, playing out like a vicious game of laser tag, rates by far as the best of the series. Lastly, we get an extremely satisfying final sequence where it’s revealed Barnes spared the life of the man who took so much from him, and the man saves him in return. B-R-A-V-O. Anarchy realizes the Purge series’ full potential, and belongs among the great horror films of our time.