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James DeMonaco’s Purge series is premised around an annual 12-hour period in which crime – including murder – is legal. This prequel to the hugely successful dystopian horror series explains the why and how of the social experiment. Devised by Dr May Updale (Marisa Tomei), who declares her interest as “psychological” rather than “political”, the controlled experiment is quickly co-opted by ruling rightwing political party New Founding Fathers’ chief of staff Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh) into a chilling evening of sanctioned ethnic cleansing.
The experiment is confined to New York’s Staten Island, chosen because of its largely black and Latino “demographic”, with residents offered a stipend of $5,000 to remain on the island, and bonus cash for active participation. Sabian is furious to discover that this socioeconomic group is “not proceeding in the manner we expected” – the locals congregate in community spaces rather than killing each other – and sends death squads in minstrel masks in the name of “social catharsis” and “population control”. Though the other Purge films were similarly interested in government conspiracy theory and class warfare, this timely instalment audaciously, and explicitly, frames the purge as racist. Imagery that evokes Charleston, the Rodney King beating and the Ku Klux Klan isn’t a shorthand but a disturbing literalisation of racially coded violence.
Although DeMonaco wrote the script, African American film-maker Gerard McMurray steps in as director, overseeing a mostly black and Latino cast. Among them are dreadlocked activist Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and her drug-dealing ex-boyfriend D’mitri (Insecure’s Y’lan Noel), who strips down to his vest and single-handedly takes on a team of tower-block assassins in the film’s Die Hard-esque finale. The Purge films are B-movies, and so this ultraviolence mostly works, though its social commentary is served a little too rare to stomach easily.
Source: The Guardian
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