March 21st is the night of the Purge in the United States, an annual holiday since 2018 where for twelve hours the population are allowed to commit any crime they wish as long as it does not interfere with Government. For this reason, so the authorities would have them believe, American society has reached a point of stability knowing that they can vent their frustrations as far as they will go on one evening of the year, building up all their resentments and entitlement to get revenge or simply wallow in the chance to act as they please with hurting others high on the agenda, even murdering them without worrying about the consequences. But there will be consequences for the innocents caught up in the anarchy...
Since the first Purge film was a sleeper hit, doing well thanks to its premise capturing the imaginations of the popular audience, a second was ordered and arrived more or less a year later, suggesting creator and director James DeMonaco either worked at a remarkable rate or that he had cunningly planned a whole series of these well in advance. That initial instalment was more of a home invasion horror, yet that killer notion behind it, informed by the vogue for science fiction breaking of society's rules of decency inspired by the Japanese cult movie Battle Royale and leading to such blockbusters as The Hunger Games franchise, was a success because the target moviegoers could not help but place themselves in the characters' position.
It was a similar mechanism to the popularity of post-apocalypse fiction as seen by the plethora of zombie movies, not least because they also presented a legitimate excuse to shoot people in the head; in the undead case, it was down to them wishing to kill and eat you, in this case, it was more or less the same only without the eating part. For some this was dangerous thinking, putting the thoughts in the minds of the impressionable for whom violence was not only a means to an end but a solution, though you could argue the more prone to lawbreaking fantasies didn't need a movie to prompt them into making those a reality. As long as you acknowledged the fictional aspect, there was little contentious about the Purge series.
That said, it was not around two hours of citizens slaughtering each other for kicks, there was a brain in the film's head even if it was in danger of being splattered across the street by an anarchist. That was because it was not simply random gangs roaming the streets exploiting the permission to murder that night, there was a strong political element you might not have expected from a Michael Bay production (presumably he didn't have much of a hand in the script) as the events represented the way the privileged make the most of the underprivileged set against one another, sort of a divide and conquer plan which in the context of the plot gives way to a Most Dangerous Game-style development as we see it is the rich who have the most to gain.
Sure, a woman can shoot her sister for adultery, or a neighbour can rape and murder the woman next door for their own deranged satisfaction, but this is oddly not as bad as the powers that be counting on them doing so to keep the hoi polloi under control 364 other days of the year. The plot threw together five characters - heavily armed grieving father (Frank Grillo), a waitress (Carmen Ejogo) and her teenage daughter (singer Zoë Soul) stranded outside, and a married couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez, an actual married couple) being hunted by a masked mob - and in a fine ensemble did more with the melting pot of a nation theme than the Oscar-winning Crash could ever hope to do, DeMonaco ensuring it moved along at a fair clip as well. It was easy to do this down as yet another repetitive horror franchise for moviegoers who didn't care too much about its themes and implications, but those themes were there, and it was a lot more intelligent than you might expect among the customary mayhem. If the resolution was pat, the rest was absorbing. Music by Nathan Whitehead.