In our current political climate when Congress seems unable to act and presidents from both parties have taken to the use of executive orders to try to get anything done, the idea of the government run amuck is a ripe topic for a horror/thriller TV series or film. The Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale” does a brilliant job of showing us in near future America when the government holds terrifying control over the population. Last season’s outstanding “American Horror Story: Cult” was its first ever season with no supernatural elements but quite effectively drew its terror from the current political climate. Unfortunately the new USA Network 10 episode limited series “The Purge” fails to deliver as either a political commentary or a horror story.
We’ve already had four feature films in the franchise based on the same premise. The basis of the entire franchise is that it takes place in the near future or perhaps an alternate version of America present-day in which one night per year in which all crime including murder is illegal. From 7 PM until 7 AM next morning anything goes. The government has declared this to be a fundamental right that people may exercise. The premise being that if you let people experience total chaos and anarchy once a year to get it out of their system, you can justify more significant oppression and control of their lives the other 364 days. It also serves to thin the herd of some of society’s less desirable and less prosperous people.
The original film “The Purge” (2013) followed an upper-middle-class family who believed they would be safe during the purge thanks to a newly installed home security system. It starred Ethan Hawke as the father. The mother was played by Lena Headley known for her role as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones. It wasn’t a great film but it was watchable on cable. You felt the peril that the family felt as their home was attacked and their lives threatened. They explored the moral dilemma that they faced when someone begged to be let into the house to escape attackers. Can you trust a stranger in need under such circumstances?
While it was a reasonably good thriller, it failed to explore the political landscape which allowed such a situation to rise. You never did get a good feel for why the government instituted such a practice. Had we not already experienced a franchise such as “The Hunger Games” in which the government promotes chaos in order to counterbalance its oppression, the film would have made even less sense.
I have not seen the other three films “The Purge: Anarchy” (2014) which seems a little bit redundant in its title, “The Purge: Election Year” (2016) which probably failed to be any more terrifying than what really happened in 2016, and the recent prequel “The First Purge” (2018). In my opinion the premise barely held up for one film. I can only suppose that the other films were just a way to capitalize on the mild success of the first one and to have an excuse to make really violent movies. I would hope that the “Election Year” version went a little more into the politics of this universe and the prequel similarly filled in some of the back story but I can’t say for sure.
Now we come to the topic at hand which is this new 10 part series based on the films. The episode presumes that you understand either from the films were from the advertising of the show just went is “The Purge”. They didn’t even bother to put up a title card explaining the premise. It’s a little bit difficult after one episode to figure out exactly who are the main characters and who are just supporting roles. We have a young couple who are attending a purge party of political bigwigs who are celebrating the event. They seem to feel uncomfortable being there despite the fact that the venue is under strong security from outside chaos and everyone involved has signed a waiver giving up their right to purge that night. Another woman from some large corporation is forced to work all night on an upcoming merger deal. She and her colleagues are similarly isolated, protected, and have signed waivers not to purge. However near the end of the first episode she sneaks out for purposes yet to be revealed.
The only mildly interesting subplot is of a man looking for his sister. He finds that she has joined some sort of cult in which they are basically a suicide pact which offer themselves up as a sacrifice to the chaos of the purge. They dressed in robes and go out as a group on a bus to an area where they know they will be slaughtered. However this subplot, like the entire plot, seems like a one note story. Once you say “Wouldn’t it be interesting if one night per year all crime including murder was legal?” There really isn’t a lot to explore. Similarly “Wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a religious cult who took that opportunity to commit suicide by offering themselves as a sacrifice to the purge?” Okay so there’s a premise but what of it.
The TV series stars no one you ever heard of before so I won’t bother listing their names or credits. You can always follow the IMDb links if you are curious.
One could be hopeful that some of the back story on how the purge came about or what are the political motivations and consequences of it might be explored in the remaining nine episodes. But that’s a long way to go on nothing but hope. Unless you are a huge fan of the films and have gotten something more out of films 2 through 4 then I got out of the original, you would probably agree with me that this deserves a very strong rating of “Skip It“. If you do want to check it out, the only saving grace might be that it is only 10 episodes. I think your time would be better spent watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” or some other better done dystopian future franchise than this one.