With guns, masks and machetes, this week the “Purge” franchise returns for another anything-goes killing spree.
The dystopian horror saga has shot through four installments with a can’t-lose premise: For 12 hours every year, the U.S. government sanctions all crimes as legal to release pent up societal anger and violence.
“The First Purge” (in theaters now) offers up an origin story, marking the latest in producer Jason Blum’s popular microbudget franchise. (A Hollywood offering that keeps critics howling louder than its doomed victims.) Here’s our ranking of all four “Purge” films.
4: ‘The Purge: Election Year’ (2016)
With a plot full of more holes than its onscreen gunshot victims, “Election Year” ranks as the worst of the bunch. The story follows Sen. Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), the sole survivor of a purge massacre that wiped out her whole family when she was a child. Now she’s running for president on an anti-Purge platform, a movement that benefits from wide populist support.
The public’s unexplained reversal on Purge nights is a baffling concept, given that it goes against the franchise’s very foundation that society has devolved to the point that the bloody night is not only vital but popular. Worse, even the fight scenes are unsatisfying, as “Election Year” dies in its quest for a happy ending.
3: ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ (2014)
The second film in the franchise focuses on the bigger picture, taking a wider look at the economic inequality that feeds societal rage. The plot features three separate economic groups trying to survive the Purge. But by spreading the focus, “Anarchy” spreads itself too thin, culminating in flimsy character development and unrealistic plot lines.
2: ‘The First Purge’ (2018)
The latest film is the most overtly political of the franchise, and is powerfully relevant given today’s headlines.
Drug dealer Dmitri (Y’lan Noel) fights back against the government’s plan to wipe out a largely African-American, subsidized-housing neighborhood on Staten Island. On the night of the Purge, an entirely white, brutal armed force takes out the local community, giving birth to the government sanctioned mayhem that follows. Effectively walking the line between a social message and genre entertainment, “The First Purge” also features comedy, thanks to the foul-mouthed neighbor Dolores (“Orange Is the New Black” star Mugga).
1: ‘The Purge’ (2013)
The film that started the franchise in 2013 tops the list. Ethan Hawke gave the genre flick star power as James Sandin, a successful businessman whose house is overwhelmed by killers during the Purge. But it’s “Game of Thrones” star Lena Headey who steals the show as a desperate mom protecting her two children, Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane). Overall, the first bloody “Purge” thrilled with meticulously crafted plot twists that kept us gasping until the credits rolled.
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