Movies

A Look Back on How We Got to ‘The First Purge’

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It has been five years since writer and director James DeMonaco unleashed his ever-growing fiction-portraying-reality (or is it the other way around) Purge franchise upon the masses. Read my Instagram review here.

The franchise presents a United States that is ruled by a regime calling itself the New Founding Fathers of America. The NFFA are the creators of the annual Purge, an event where citizens can release all their anger and hostility in one 12-hour span by having free rein to rape, kill, loot, and destroy as much as they can.

Depending on which film you are watching, it also serves as almost direct commentary on social, political, and racial divisions within the country.

On July 4, we travel back to The First Purge, a prequel written by DeMonaco, but directed by Gerard McMurray.

The story moves to New York, where Staten Island residents are used as part of an experiment to see if this crazy purge idea will even work. Before we take a trip back in time and see how this all began, let’s take a quick refresher on the previous Purge movies.

The Purge (2013)

The first Purge movie is set in the year is 2022. As the title call states, unemployment is below one percent, crime is almost nonexistent, and U.S. has been pulled back from the brink of collapse by a group called the New Founding Fathers of America, who rose to power eight years before (making it 2014 in Purge time). The NFFA implemented the Purge as a means of basically concentrating crime and mayhem into one single night. All crime is legal and all emergency services are suspended for 12 hours, beginning annually at 7 p.m. on March 21.

The story focuses on the Sandin family, who are among the rich, white, protected one percent. The father (Ethan Hawke) makes a very comfortable living working for a home-security firm that sells a mediocre product for way too much money.

All is well on Purge night until a bloodied black man (Edwin Hodge) on their street cries out for someone to save him. The Sandin’s son opens their security doors to let him in, which leads to a mob of young nihilists in masks to open their security doors of they will kill everyone inside.

Almost all of the Sandins end up surviving the night (albeit with some twists and turns), and the bloody stranger escapes to make it to the sequel.

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

The Purge universe opens up in this first sequel. The story shifts to a man set to avenge the death of his son, a pair of motorists stranded in downtown L.A. after their car breaks down, and a mother and daughter who escape a kidnapping by a Purge hunting party.

Anarchy takes place in 2023, a year removed from the events of the original movie. The story’s racial issues come into the foreground with a more diverse cast. There’s also a visible resistance at this point, led by a man named Carmelo Johns (Michael K. Williams) who hijacks official state broadcasts to rally anti-Purge sentiment.

In Anarchy we see that the warring factions are set as a brutal white ruling class against a resistance led by people of color. We also see the bloodied homeless man from the first film return as a rebel fighter in the second.

Anarchy also exposes the NFFA’s tradition of sending out armored death squads to pad casualties. We also see civilian raiders gathering people up for sale at auctions filled with extremely wealthy people who bid for the privilege of hunting down victims in controlled kill environments. Unfortunately for them, one of the people that gets rounded up is Frank Grillo, so you know things didn’t quite go as planned.

The Purge: Election Year (2016)

Ah, the Purge movie with the tagline “Keep America Great,” should sound rather familiar as the franchise continues to mirror the society that watches these sequels.

We jump considerably ahead in time for Election Year, now 25 years since the NFFA took power in America. While a date is not given, that should make it March 21, 2039, and the story takes place in Washington D.C.

We follow a senator named Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) — now under the protection of our Anarchy lone wolf, Leo (Frank Grillo) — whom is challenging Founding Father Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor) for the presidency. The NFFA are determined to kill her to stop insurrection and preserve the Purge.

Unfortunately for the NFFA, the populace is turning against the annual event and the NFFA. Rioters and resistance members increasingly call out the event as a government-mandated genocide of poor and mostly nonwhite citizens that entities like the NRA and insurance companies reap massive profits from.

Murder tourism becomes an actual thing as foreigners come to America and make a vacation out of the Purge. The familiar black government trucks are out again, carrying kill squads through town. Resistance leader Carmelo Johns has been replaced by Dwayne Bishop (the bloody stranger from the first Purge!), and DeMonaco takes all of the subtext out of his depictions of the modern fascist government by making neo-Nazi mercenaries their foot soldiers and adorning them with party accessories that look like a hybrid of the Iron Cross and the Reichsadler of the Nazi party.

The NFFA also spend the Purge at a midnight mass where they worship God and murder and weapons and each other and chant, “Purge and purify!”

The story concludes when resistance members ambushes the mass and rescues Roan, who was captured by the NFFA for ritual Purge murder. She wins the presidency and abolishes the “holiday” through an executive order. The last thing we hear are news reports of NFFA sympathizers rising up to fight against the abolition of their legalized criminal holiday.

The First Purge (2018)

All of this brings us to The First Purge.

“I was wondering how you get people to stay for the first Purge, and what they do is they start monetizing it,” DeMonaco told Vulture in an interview. “People from Staten Island can easily go to Brooklyn for the evening, so what they do is start promising very decent sums of money for the very poor people in the neighborhood. It becomes a monetization of murder and violence, incentivizing killing and keeping people around for them to be victims. So you see the inception of how grotesque the idea of the Purge is, the manipulation upon the society. That’s where it becomes, sadly, I think, very topical right now with the current administration.”

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