Purge the Formula

The Purge series stumbled its way into becoming a franchise.

The first entry, simple titled The Purge, isn’t even about what ultimately turned just another low-budget, 21st centry B-horror-movie — Blumhouse’s signature! — into a blockbuster tetralogy: the general concept. Far from the focus of Purge, its nifty premise  is merely the setting to the story, justifying a typical home invasion thriller.

For the sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, the powers-that-be realized the error of their ways — or perhaps listened to audiences — and understood we wanted to learn more about the particulars of the actual Purge. In the first, the standard operating procedure of the night is basically only mentioned as a way to justify why a family would be on their own during a violent break-in; the world of the Purge remains outside the house.

The second brings us into that world, delving into as many different facets of it as possible. We follow an ensemble of characters trying to navigate the mean streets outside, providing a sort of overview of how shit hits the fan when the Purge commences. This wider plot view fleshed out the world, an important step since neither features the most fleshed-out of characters.

This problem besets the third entry, The Purge: Election Year. It regurgitates Anarchy‘s bifurcated approach, with half somewhat exploring the sociopolitical reality of this fictional idea (yay!), while the other, inferior 50% devolves into a tired action-horror romp (nay!). The shallowly-written characters only engage when they’re used to probe the resonant ideas underpinning the premise.

The recently-released fourth outing, The First Purge, is technically a prequel, taking us back to — you guessed it! — the first Purge. Despite this temporal leap, the framework is the same as the previous two installments, as if the creators don’t understand the concept of diminishing returns. Once again, its interesting notions get lost in character arcs with straight-to-video (or is it straight-to-VOD nowadays? Or how about straight-to-streaming?) execution.

Too many critics similarly chide mainstream fare for their flippant treatment of character development, deeper themes, and crafting complex narratives, all of which seem to be commonly viewed by their filmmakers as necessary evils that need to be dealt with before leading to the elements that actually make the big bucks.

But I actually disagree with my fellow naysayers’ desired results. Hot take alert: instead of dressing up these commercial enterprises with such “legitimate” artistic furnishings, these movies should just lean into their financial goals, disregarding anything that can be construed as artsy fartsy. No one enjoys The Purge series because of its characters. As such, why bother spending time on them at all? Better yet: how about not including any?

What if the next Purge is a mockumentary, one that doesn’t mock the proceedings for laughs, but legitimately investigates the world of the Purge like a documentary? That way, it can exclusively pay attention to revealing the nitty gritty details in all their endlessly imaginative fascination. Make it another found footage spectacle for all I care, mixing gritty horror with nitty information.

Then again, doing so would require Blumhouse to deviate from its lucrative formula in the name of substantive novelty (“The First Purge” might sound new, but it’s really just an excuse to trod out the same old shit). I know, if it ain’t broke (AKA if it makes $$$$$), don’t fix it. But who’s to say an admittedly risky facelift wouldn’t increase the franchise’s overall value?

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