Last year a clever, sleek little movie slipped into the cinemas. It had cunningly positioned itself as a horror movie without any supernatural trappings (and no weary slasher clichés). Instead it was science fiction, but not science fiction as we know it (in the movies), Jim. No monsters or space ships or futuristic technology. Just a single sociological notion.
In The Purge we see a near-future America where the authoritarian government has created a social safety valve by declaring one night every year when, for 12 hours, all crime is legal. You can loot, murder and ravage to your heart's content.
I'm sure if you trawled through sf literature you'd find similar tales that anticipated the central conceit of The Purge. But it remains a bold, strong, simple concept. And in terms of movie science fiction it was refreshingly thoughtful.
The cleverness of that film didn't stop there. Shrewdly, it told the story of the night inside the house of one affluent family. Which made for unsettling, potent intimacy. And of course by limiting the location it kept the budget low. The Purge was a canny movie in every way. And it was deservedly a modest box office hit.
All of which brings me to this year's sequel. The Purge: Anarchy. Thanks to the commercial success of the first instalment there is a bigger budget available and that has led to a film which is better in every imaginable way. This an immensely suspenseful, deeply enjoyable movie — and not for the faint hearted.
One of the things I love about The Purge: Anarchy is the way it functions like a zombie movie, but without the ridiculous premise which requires the viewer's walloping huge suspension of disbelief. Here we can still have the sick sense of dread as our protagonists wander a nocturnal city where every shadow can hide a horrible death. But it's all founded on a plausible, and even possible, premise.
The other thing I love is the detestation of the wealthy and privileged in the story, and the way we side with the impoverished underclass. This is very rare in American films, and downright radical.
Like the first movie, The Purge: Anarchy is written and directed by James DeMonaco and he has done a smashing job. The movie is kind of a 21st century revision of movies like Assault on Precinct 12 and The Warriors, but vastly more sophisticated. Ah... how interesting. I just looked up DeMonaco's credits and discovered he wrote the remake of Assault on Precinct 13. That makes sense.
I didn't like that remake very much — at the end everybody ends up suddenly transported from the urban setting into a wintry forest, as if magically carried to Narnia — but never mind that. James DeMonaco is spectacularly on form with his Purge movies and they are a series to cherish and he is a filmmaker to watch.
Do catch The Purge: Anarchy
this summer if violent thrillers are your cup of tea. And if you do,
make sure you stay for the magnificent title sequence at the end.
(Image credits: Ace Show Biz comes up trumps. Thank you, folks.)