The Purge Series
The Purge (July 8/13)
The Purge transpires in an America where its citizens are allowed to commit any crime they'd like on one night a year, with the film following Ethan Hawke's James, Lena Headey's Mary, and their two kids (Max Burkholder's Charlie and Adelaide Kane's Zoey) as they attempt to survive an attack orchestrated by a nameless (and impressively smug) figure known only as Polite Leader (Rhys Wakefield). It's a rather ludicrous premise that's employed to persistently underwhelming effect by writer/director James DeMonaco, which is disappointing, certainly, given the better-than-expected nature of the movie's opening half hour or so. DeMonaco pushes past the implausible setup by emphasizing the central characters and their (seemingly) fortified estate, with the watchable feel perpetuated by Hawke's typically solid work and an overall atmosphere of ominous foreboding. The Purge, then, doesn't begin to go downhill until the aforementioned Polite Leader and his gang of masked killers arrive on the scene, as the movie essentially abandons its (admittedly weak) premise and morphs into a particularly generic and run-of-the-mill home-invasion thriller. The film's incredibly tedious vibe is exacerbated by the almost uniformly stupid actions of its central characters, with, especially, the laughable behavior of Burkholder's Charlie stretching the limits of credibility on an ongoing basis (ie the kid, time and again, chooses a homeless individual over his own family). The ineffectiveness of the various action sequences (ie DeMonaco's overuse of handheld camerawork renders such moments incoherent) confirms The Purge's place as a misbegotten piece of work, and it does seem as though the home-invasion genre has worn out its welcome to a decidedly palpable degree.
The Purge: Anarchy
Set in the world established by the original but containing an entirely new roster of characters, The Purge: Anarchy follows several hapless figures as they find themselves stuck outside during the deadly title event. There's little doubt that The Purge: Anarchy gets off to a better-than-expected start, as filmmaker James DeMonaco does an effective job of establishing the disparate protagonists and their respective problems - with the introduction and exploits of a vengeance-seeking stranger (Frank Grillo's Sergeant) certainly holding a lot of promise. The passable, watchable atmosphere persists right up until the purge itself commences, after which point The Purge: Anarchy slowly-but-surely morphs into a tedious and hopelessly generic actioner that substitutes repetition for thrills - as DeMonaco devotes the bulk of the proceedings to the remaining characters' ongoing attempts to survive. This, of course, paves the way for a second half that's rife with sequence after sequence of the protagonists evading nefarious villains and skulking through dimly lit locations, with the less-than-engrossing vibe compounded by DeMonaco's reliance on second-rate, thoroughly unpleasant visuals - which the filmmaker amps up to new levels of ugliness each and every time an action beat rolls around (ie enough with the shaky camerawork, already). By the time the narrative reaches its desperate, eye-rollingly misguided Most Dangerous Game-inspired climax, The Purge: Anarchy has confirmed its place as a half-baked sequel that runs out of steam almost as quickly as it begins.
The Purge: Election Year (June 30/16)
The Purge series hits a stunning low with this astonishingly incompetent third entry, with the narrative following a presidential candidate (Elizabeth Mitchell's Charlie Roan) as she attempts to stay alive during the deadly annual event. (Frank Grillo reprises his role from The Purge: Anarchy as the one police officer that Charlie can trust, while Mykelti Williamson also appears as an affable shop owner who winds up assisting the pair.) Before it goes completely off the rails, The Purge: Election Year comes off as a watchable (if entirely disposable) thriller that boasts a handful of unexpectedly strong performances - with Grillo's predictably grizzled turn as the hardened protagonist matched by a strong supporting cast that includes Kyle Secor, Ethan Phillips, and Raymond J. Barry. (It remains clear, however, that Williamson's consistently agreeable work ensures that he remains the movie's M.V.P.) The film's transformation from passable thriller to interminable mess, then, comes right as the title event gets under way, as writer/director James DeMonaco, as is his way, has infused this portion of the proceedings with a relentlessly incoherent feel that's heightened and perpetuated by an emphasis on flat-out unintelligible action sequences. And although DeMonaco has peppered the narrative with a few crowd-pleasing interludes (eg a reprehensible figure gets "purged" by a speeding van), The Purge: Election Year grows more and more interminable as it slowly proceeds through an almost unbearably overlong running time - with DeMonaco's decision to take the story in a new direction just as it should be wrapping up nothing short of disastrous. It's ultimately difficult to recall a film series that's gone downhill quite as dramatically as The Purge, with, at the very least, the conclusion mercifully appearing to promise a definitive end to this utterly misbegotten franchise.
The First Purge (July 14/18)
Set years before the events of 2013's The Purge, The First Purge follows a handful of bland characters as they attempt to survive the inaugural installment of the series' deadly, free-for-all night of violence. There's never a point at which The First Purge doesn't come off as a missed opportunity of decidedly colossal proportions, as scripter James DeMonaco delivers a run-of-the-mill and hopelessly tedious entry that barely explores the creation and execution of the Purge - with the movie instead coming off as just another paint-by-numbers exercise in absolutely tedium. Filmmaker Gerard McMurray proves hopelessly unable at transforming any of the myriad of characters into sympathetic, three-dimensional figures, and it is, as a result, increasingly difficult to work up an ounce of interest in their ongoing (and progressively violent) exploits - with the aggressively hands-off atmosphere perpetuated and heightened by an emphasis on dimly lit and downright incoherent action set pieces. And although the picture's been peppered with a small handful of intriguing elements (eg a gang of white supremacists uses the event to gleefully murder African Americans), The First Purge climaxes with a Raid-like final stretch that ultimately feels more desperate than anything else - which ensures that the film comes off as just another useless entry in what's become one of this new century's absolute worst cinematic franchises.