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When I first saw The Purge, I thought pretty much what everyone else thought at the time. The premise put forth in this low-budget home invasion movie was way too good to be wasted on something so forgettable. Carnivale, but with machetes... man, now that would have been something worth watching.
Of course, as the franchise continued, we got to see more of what the Purge did to society, and we got to play with the concept a little more. The second installment remains my personal favorite (if for no other reason than we get to see what would have happened if Frank Grillo had been cast as The Punisher), but every other film in the franchise does a better job of exploring the themes and ideas the original movie set forth.
Since The Purge has become an official franchise, and it has the sort of money to make films with decent budgets, I'd like to suggest some additional twists future films might take.
To any film executives reading this, I would be more than happy to get you a script.
Also, if you enjoy my thoughts here, you should stop by my Horror archive where you'll find other posts like 5 Reasons Jason Voorhees is One of The Greatest Slashers, and What is The Monster in The Ritual? (A Mythological Theory).
#1 The Purge: The Thin, Blue Line
Since all emergency services (including police) are suspended during the Purge it makes you wonder... what are all those cops doing for the 12 hours they aren't obligated to respond?
You could take this in a lot of different directions, while expanding on the themes of class warfare, racial tensions, and social inequality that the franchise's foundations are built on. If you wanted to make it a siege-style movie, you could show how cops take elaborate precautions during the Purge so as not to get killed by criminals, or by people seeking to punish them for doing their jobs. You could even add twists to the formula, perhaps making our lead a woman or an officer of color, and the faces beneath the masks at their door other cops who don't want "the diversity hire" showing up on Monday. You could also have a younger officer join forces with an old law dog who is too old for this shit as they try to survive the night, possibly with a passing of the torch just as the dawn comes.
Alternatively, you could make a much more straightforward, renegade-style cop movie. About officers who put their badges away, slip on masks, and head out to pass judgment on those they know are guilty, but who were never punished. Perhaps, ironically, because the individuals in question committed their crimes during the Purge itself! A set of partners who take on the mob, or a cop who tries to steal evidence before the window is out could all work here... especially if you want to add in the twist that there's a mole in the vigilante unit, and this year all bets are off.
#2 The Purge: Pay Day
During the Purge all crime is legal (with a few, minor caveats). The series tends to focus on murder because it's one of the biggest taboos we have, but why stop there? If we want to hammer home the whole class warfare narrative, then why don't we see some of the disenfranchised trying to better their situation on that one night of the year?
How? By robbing a bank, of course!
The main theme of this film would be sheer desperation. A disparate gang made up of people who just can't make it work in day-to-day life (the ex-con no one will hire, the gangster who got out but can't survive as a waiter, the guy-in-the-van whose medical bills are slowly killing him, etc., etc.) work together, pick a bank, and come Purge night they're going to make their play for a better life.
There are all kinds of twists you could take with this. The team chooses a relatively unknown, quiet place to hit, but they still find themselves in competition with another gang who had the same idea. During a tense standoff, do they join forces and split the take? Does it devolve into a bloody shootout? Or did our team end up choosing a bank that's used by organized crime to launder its money?
If you're looking for a twist at the end, the surviving members board a plane to escape, but just when they think they've gotten away, they realize that the Purge is still going on for another hour where they've landed... and someone phoned ahead that they have duffel bags full of cash.
#3 The Purge: 1%
From the very first film it's been clear that the Purge affects poor people a hell of a lot more than it does the middle class and wealthy. Not only that, but there are entire groups of people profiting off of Purge night. From home security system salesmen, like James Sandin in the first film, to the gun runners we see hawking hardware on the streets in The Purge: Anarchy, it seems like everyone is out to make a buck off of pain, suffering, and misery.
That's the American way, after all.
However, what about a movie where that resistance rises up? Where the day laborers, the small business owners, the homeless veterans, and the wage slaves all band together to focus on their mutual enemies? What do you do when the local robber baron who has made a fortune off of your suffering is assaulted by masked clerks with fire axes, shot at by snipers who've lost their benefits, and hunted by those whose jobs were downsized when the CEO sent them overseas to give himself a big bonus?
For this film, we need to have a slowly changing narrative. We start with the successful family man, his devoted wife, and perhaps a sulky, rebellious child. In the beginning we see them nobly defending what they've earned against the rampaging horde... but as the film progresses we reveal what a bastard the guy is. How he doesn't even think of the mob banging on his door as people, calling them animals, ingrates, and worse. We reveal that his wife sold her soul in marrying him, giving herself a financial foundation, but breaking up his last marriage to do it. Maybe killing his last wife on Purge night, just to drive home the corruption of the day. At the same time, the people outside start taking off their masks. We see that they're human beings (perhaps characters we saw earlier slaving away at their jobs in the background). We learn their stories, and begin to see that not only are their grievances well founded, but they might actually be the protagonists of this story.
And that sulky kid? Be it a daughter going through a rebellious phase or a son who wants to go into social work instead of business? Have them open the door for the mob, once the full-force of the sins that built the family fortune have come to light.
#4 The Purge: Dark Web
Murder and mayhem have long been the draw of this franchise, but there are all kinds of other crimes that happen during Purge night. Cyber crime, for example, is something we never see going on... but you know it's happening. Sure there are probably kids in safe rooms with satellite Internet ripping off music, but what about serious crimes?
The sort that might get you doxxed during Purge night?
There are all kinds of potential hooks in this one. For example, if you want to make it a close, intimate story, have a hacker choose one person to really screw with on Purge night. Or a small group of people in a Skype chat (their annual Purge night hangout). Much like in Scream, what starts as an innocent call or text message soon becomes a game of cat and mouse with a ghost who can turn off your security system, watch you through your own cameras, and who wants you to follow his commands. If you don't... well, it would be a shame if your front door suddenly opened on tonight, of all nights.
Alternatively, we might be treated to an underground group of hackers who are trying to get to the bottom of the Purge, and who's really behind it. Folks trying to trace dark money in elections, finding video logs of conversations between high-profile politicians and business owners, etc., etc. It all seems to be going well, but when someone picks up their signal, they have to run before the goon squad shows up. So now we have a pitched battle through the city as our group of rebels tries to hack phone lines, steal Wi-Fi signals, and in general finish their work before the siren goes off, all while dodging thugs in black balaclavas and roving bands of Jason Voorhees wannabes.
#5 The Purge: Traffick
While we tend to think of slavery as a thing that's over and done with, over 40 million people worldwide are still victims of human trafficking. It's heinous, it's awful, and it speaks to the darkest corruption of the human spirit.
So of course this would be going on during the Purge.
As to who our protagonist is, or what shape this narrative takes, again, we have options. Is Purge night a big one for illegal immigration, as there's no crime committed if you can dodge the patrols of vigilantes in pickup trucks? Do we add in elements of Taken, where someone who promises to guide a family over the border simply steals the wife and child, leaving the husband with a ticking clock to track them down, and take his revenge? Or do we go back to form, and have gangs of traffickers try to break in and steal victims that would be worth the most on the open market? A sort of hybrid of the home invasion genre and The Most Dangerous Game where the traffickers don't want to damage the goods.
If you want a big reveal for this one, you could add in that the traffickers are targeting specific populations that have been deemed "problematic" by their shadowy masters, hinting that someone is taking extreme measures to alter the makeup of the population. We might even have a reveal, toward the end, that the head of this gang of traffickers poses as an anti-Purge firebrand in order to collect the names, addresses, and personal information of people who can be black-bagged before they start building enough political momentum to undo the great experiment in purging.