Now a new political party has taken power in the United States of America, calling themselves the New Founding Fathers of America and adopting an ultra-conservative set of policies, they have announced possibly their most controversial idea yet. Condemned by liberals and foreign governments alike, the experiment has become known as The Purge thanks to its concept of purging society of its less salubrious elements by encouraging them to kill one another. For one night on Staten Island, all crime will be legal and that includes murder; theoretically this means there will be an elimination of the criminal members of the community as they are ganged up on. Right?
The Purge series had always been political, but oddly it took this fourth entry in the series, arriving a few months before the spin-off television show and a year before the fifth entry, to make many audiences realise they were being lectured to. This was likely down to the franchise's creator and screenwriter here James DeMonaco applying a greater sense of urgency to his message-making than ever before now there was a certain, much-criticised President in the White House who with his frequently wild claims made it not as farfetched as it had been previously that he could instigate something Purge-like for America, or at least that's what this movie was banking on as believable.
It's highly unlikely even an administration as extremist and corrupt as the one in charge when this film was released would actually get away with institutionalised murder as a vote-winner even with a financial incentive, not like this and not when too many citizens were already committing their own acts of violence, it seemed on a monthly basis as far as mass murder went. The authorities had to criticise the killers, but their empty promises of doing something about it, mixed with offerings of thoughts and prayers amounting to zero help whatsoever, created a cultural climate where The Purge movies were not some low budget, straight to streaming indies, but somehow tapping into a real concern.
Not that The First Purge and its ilk were without controversy, and this effort in particular was accused of anti-white racism by having a largely black cast battling often unseen white murderers and corruption. The manner in which it depicted a race war, effectively, was not what many horror fans wanted to see, not the ones who were being forced to reassess their relationship to an entertainment that offered death as that entertainment, no matter how fictional - politics didn't usually come into sitting in front of an action flick and letting the screen violence wash over you, yet here we were with a collection of films that actively invited you to ponder the place of that in society, and starring in this instalment a group of actors of colour whose impoverished characters in real life would be getting a raw deal anyway.
Purge or no Purge. That cast was mostly populated by unknowns, with the occasional familiar face such as Melonie Diaz (on the side of the oppressed) or Marisa Tomei (the "scientist" regarding this all with an academic view) cropping up. Y'Lan Noel was our ostensible hero, a gangster who in true Blaxploitation fashion turns out to be the good guy when circumstances force him to man up and do something positive, while the female lead was Lex Scott Davis, just trying to get by in a crumbling (well, leaking) tower block without resorting to crime and looking after her younger brother (Joivan Wade) who gets caught up in the Purge when he seeks revenge against a local madman nicknamed Skeletor (Rotimi Paul). So far, not much we hadn't seen before, but the twist about the government sending in exterminator militias to have the mass murdering effect they wanted when the island populace is reluctant to do it themselves on the big night was the most audacious development. No Purge movie is a masterpiece, but they reflected their times in surprisingly engrossing ways. Music by Kevin Lax.