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When President Donald Trump declared that he would ‘make America great again,’ it appeared that the satirical social commentary within the Purge series had finally reached its conclusion, with the newly elected commander-in-chief’s comments echoing that of the franchise’s third instalment Election Year.
But Trump’s powerful motto was in fact first conceived by former actor Ronald Reagan during his 1980 Presidential campaign, in which he stated, ‘For those who’ve abandoned hope, we’ll restore hope and we’ll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again.’ Reagan’s words became a symbol of optimism at a time when the country was still reeling from the damage caused by the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal during the first half of the 1970s and would usher in a new era of Capitalism and Commercialism across the United States.
While the first Purge movie was released prior to Trump’s own Presidential race, its concept of a totalitarian future in which an extreme right wing government would sanction an annual event in which all forms of crime are legalised for twelve continuous hours – in order to allow citizens to ‘unleash the beast’ and thus revel in their constitutionalised bloodlust – now seems less like tongue-in-cheek fantasy and more like a future America is dangerously close to embracing.
‘What’s interesting about the trilogy is how it went further and further regarding wearing its politics and social mores on its sleeve,’ claimed a Forbes article during the release of the latest sequel in 2016. ‘Encased in the horror genre, one noted paradoxically both for being disreputable and being political, writer/director James DeMonaco crafted a saga which pointed an explicit finger at the worst impulses in American society and arguably highlighted them as specifically American.’
Horror and satire have often worked hand-in-hand, using extremes as a mirror to reflect the flaws of modern society and how unless those issues are rectified then future generations could face a world ruled under fascism or plagued by war. George A. Romero littered his acclaimed zombie series with numerous commentaries on the modern world, from his criticism on the Vietnam War with Night of the Living Dead to America’s obsession with commercialism in Dawn of the Dead.
While many recent genre pictures have obsessed with referencing the 1970s and 1980s, the Purge has instead looked to the future to theorise what kind of world may lie ahead. The series was first created by DeMonaco during the Obama Administration yet how since Trump took the White House its themes and basic concept seem more apt than ever. The box office takings of each Purge movie has reflected this, with each instalment out-grossing its predecessor and most of the reviews for Election Year focusing on its comparisons with the Presidential elections.
Yet despite the close resemblance to current events, DeMonaco was adamant that this was purely coincidental. ‘I wrote the film right after the last movie at the end of 2014. So I didn’t even process that,’ he told the Latin Post. ‘I always wanted to tell a political conspiracy thriller for the third one. Naturally it was going to be a senator who was running for president and yeah back then Trump wasn’t even on board. My producer always says I was telling the future because I had no idea.’
The Purge, released in 2013, was a small-scale home invasion thriller which told of a family who have made money from the annual Purge through home security systems sold by the patriarch but who are inadvertently targeted by a gang of hunters when they take in a stranger on the run from the high-tech mob. The first sequel, Anarchy, made its debut the following year and moved the action out into the streets, taking inspiration from John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York as a small group of survivors attempt to navigate their way through the city to safety.
The Purge: Election Year, released five months before Trump’s Presidential victory was announced, was the most political of the trilogy as it followed the events of an outspoken Senator whose campaign is to end the Purge as she views it as a form of right wing population control, a way to legally eradicate the country of the weak and the poor.
‘Whatever utopia like this in which crime doesn’t exist, eventually would turn into total chaos and anarchy and society, as we know it would stop existing,’ stated Frank Grillo, the antihero of both Anarchy and Election Year, in an interview with Desde Hollywood. ‘From the beginning of men we had to set up a civilised society with laws and rules, otherwise we couldn’t govern ourselves and we couldn’t govern our emotions. We would be extinct.’
Following the critical and commercial success of Election Year, which proved to be the most acclaimed of the series to date, a fourth instalment seemed inevitable and now it has been revealed that the as-yet-untitled project will be released in July 2018. While DeMonaco will once again return as writer and the picture will be developed through Universal, Platinum Dunes and Blumhouse, the producers are currently searching for a suitable director to helm the latest story in the expanding franchise.
DeMonaco’s resistance to direct the latest instalment is the second time he has wanted another filmmaker to take over the series, as he had initial doubts about helming Election Year. ‘I just read the newest script and we’re going to start shooting relatively soon and it’s definitely a new chapter in Purge,’ produced Jason Blum told Nerdist in 2015. ‘It feels very new and hopefully James will direct it. He hasn’t said for sure. He wrote it but he hasn’t said for sure that he’s going to direct it but I really want him to. I’m praying that he directs it. He hasn’t declared yet but it’s really cool.’DeMonaco’s refusal to direct, despite the positive response to the two sequels, is somewhat understandable as once an idea becomes a franchise it eventually loses momentum and grows repetitive. Whether it be classic horrors from the 1980s like Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street or a more recent series such as Saw or Final Destination, the inspired and unique ideas of the earlier entries soon give way to a formulaic form of storytelling.
‘I’ll be happy if it holds onto some kind of political ideology, something attached so The Purge doesn’t become this violent film full of Final Destination death scenes,’ Demonaco admitted to We Got This Covered when asked about the future of the franchise. ‘It’d be cool if it could always work on two levels. A little political ideology mixed with your horror storytelling – then I’d say let’s keep going.’