Back in 2013 a film appeared, written and directed by James DeMonaco. It was a thriller called The Purge and it featured a brilliantly simple notion which turned it into sociological science fiction.
in America in the near future a totalitarian government has institute 'The Purge' — one night a year, for 12 hours, all crime, including murder, is legal.
This is purportedly to allow a cathartic cleansing of emotions and promote a peaceful society. It's actually a social control mechanism to keep the government in power...
The film followed one family locked into their fortress of a house and under siege during that night.
It was successful enough to give rise to a sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, also written and directed by DeMonaco, and then another one, The Purge: Election Year.
Both of these sequels expanded the scope of their stories, taking us out onto the streets into the nightmare milieu of Purge night. One of the clever things about this concept is that it's like a zombie movie without zombies — just lethally armed, disinhibited, 'normal' human beings.
And both of these sequels were outstanding; I recommend them highly. Not least because they presented the almost unheard of spectacles of poor black American good guys gunning down rich white American bad guys.
In terms of racial politics, the Purge movies aren't up there with the magnificent Get Out, but they are still canny and biting social satires.
Now there's another Purge sequel in cinemas (cheekily released on the 4th of July): The First Purge, which takes the story back to its roots with a pilot experiment for the Purge which is limited to a sealed-off Staten Island.
Impoverished residents have been paid five grand each if they stay for the mayhem. Again social criticism is entwined with brutal action. Again James DeMonaco has written the script, but this time the director is Gerard McMurray.
Unfortunately The First Purge isn't up to the exhilarating standard of Anarchy or Election Year, but it does have its moments. Like a Klu Klux Klan murder gang being wiped out by heavily armed African American drug dealers.
And the grand finale is an amusing variation on Die Hard. The leader of the drug dealers (Y'lan Noel as Dmitri) goes alone into the high rise housing project to stop the white supremacists who are on a killing spree within.
Dmitri is even dressed in a wife-beater vest, like John McLane in Die Hard.
So... good, but not great. If you're intrigued by the premise of the Purge movies you might want to check out the second or third film.
Or maybe you'd prefer to wait for the TV series, which is on its way.
(Image credits: A surprisingly large selection of posters — and some great ones (I particularly like the crime scene continent, and the burning ice cream truck) — at Imp Awards.)