The Purge franchise may be getting progressively smarter, but it’s never been terribly subtle in its political commentary. The latest installment, Election Year is the sharpest and best of the trilogy and, at least, is pushing the concept toward a logical conclusion: a growing movement of citizens and politicians resisting the Purge.
The first Purge film was fairly divisive, with audiences split between those who found the movie surprisingly good and those who took joy in eviscerating its core premise as ridiculous. A government-sanctioned, 12-hour perinnnbod of lawlessness is a surface level-fascinating idea that crumbles under light scrutiny. How are the rules of the Purge actually enforced? Are plotting crimes pre-Purge and possessing stolen goods post-Purge still illegal? Would this actually help the economy? Wouldn’t hacking and fraud be more popular crimes than murder, causing annual economic chaos and disrupting the class stratification that the Purge is meant to maintain? Why are people even putting up with this?
Some good news: Election Year explains “Purge insurance”, which at least answers the logistical question of who the hell pays for all the property damage incurred on Purge night.
Still, The Purge was a decent home invasion thriller, and The Purge: Anarchy was a better action flick. Director James DeMonaco has been very transparent about the fact that his franchise plays off the current political environment of extreme income inequality, and tries to make some commentary on racism in modern America (an argument that has been sharpened along the way). While the franchise is meant to be vaguely topical, it probably didn’t expect to be quite so on the nose about the state of global politics in 2016.
Of course DeMonaco could foresee that Election Year would, in fact, come out during an election year. Even Catwoman could see that income inequality was bad news. Yet very few people foresaw an election year as entirely batshit crazy as the one we’re currently living. The growing undercurrent in the Purge films, which becomes explicit in Election Year, is that the government that is encouraging its citizens to support something that is against their best interests.
Taking working class rage at shrinking economic opportunity and redirecting it at poorer or more disadvantaged classes is an age old political strategy that is being used to greater and greater effect. It’s easy to spot the nods to Trump’s campaign, but the shocking news of the recent Brexit vote reminded the U.S. that we don’t hold the monopoly on knee-jerk political decisions.
One of the major sticking points that makes the Purge hard to imagine was always the implausibility of a single unified political party coming to power in order to impose something like the Purge. While it’s vaguely implied that an unprecedented economic disaster lead to the rise of the “New Founding Fathers”, it’s hard to imagine anything short of large scale destruction could touch our bitterly entrenched two-party system.
The worst case scenario of a post-Brexit Britain actually could create the extreme instability necessary for a Purge future. For one, the entire Leave campaign was built around lies, feeding in to xenophobic fears and euroskepticism, to convince voters to make a choice that will be overwhelmingly harmful to their country. We already saw a shocking economic impact of the vote with in the first 12 hours or so, with the pound plummeting and stock markets in chaos.
While Britain’s Leave politicians scramble to backtrack, the worst case scenario for England is a future in which it leaves the EU and also opts out of trade and financial agreements. The UK may break up as a result. England is now isolated and it’s economy is in shambles. Xenophobia is still rampant against non-white citizens. This is the level of extreme crisis that might lead to a total regime change. Picture the bloody Boris Johnson masks!
Due to the proliferation of guns a’blazing, The Purge might seem like a uniquely American possibility, but the size of the US also makes it unlikely. The concept of states rights is deeply entrenched in our culture, and such a radical change in federal government is nearly impossible. In such a severe economic crisis, the country is more like to break up than accept any New Founding Fathers, and could do so more easily that most countries. England’s small size also makes it more vulnerable then.
England of course does not have the insane gun culture of the US, but it doesn’t take an AR-15 to murder a helpless person. A Purge with fewer guns would be, perhaps, a less sensational horror flick, but still deadly.
DeMonaco has said the Purge franchise may eventually go international. With the quality of Election Year, it would be a smart place to end the franchise, although it will likely just spur more sequels. The Purge: Brexit probably won’t happen, but it’s a good reminder that political disaster is closer than we’d like to think.