The Purge Series 1 Review
Could end up being the longest 24 hours of your life.
After spawning a surprisingly successful franchise from a high concept idea, The Purge hits the small screen as a TV series picked up by Amazon Prime in the UK.2013's The Purge broke Box Office records for a low budget production, ostensibly a simple home invasion horror embellished by a novel premise - in the not-so-distant future, seemingly to stop crime by satisfying mankind's violent urges, for one night - 12 hours - every year, anything goes, even murder.
Whilst the premise was clever, the limitations - not just in budget, but also in scope - of The Purge meant that it ended up being little more than just another home invasion horror, but the Box Office success understandably led to the creation of a full-blown franchise.
The Box Office success understandably led to the creation of a full-blown franchise.
This, in turn, led to one of the better low budget sequels ever made in The Purge: Anarchy, which expanded the scope and turned the feature into more of a survival horror, with the excellent casting choice of Frank Grillo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Beyond Skyline) in the lead, who was brought back for the solid but not quite as good third and film film in the original trilogy, The Purge: Election Year.
Of course, given the limited budgets of the films, and the consequently impressive Box Office returns yielded by each, this was not the end of the story, with a prequel film, The First Purge being released and now, perhaps hoping to cash in on the modest success named film franchises (from Scream to Taken to Jack Ryan) have found trading their wares on the smaller screen, a TV series simply entitled The Purge.
The story follows multiple characters and strands but largely focusses upon two siblings who end up in very different places: Penelope (Jessica Garza), a young Purge cult worshipper who witnesses - first hand - the horrors that the night offers, and Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria - War for the Planet of the Apes), a US Marine who returns home to an ominous letter from Penelope and begins his own hunt during the dangerous night.
There are a number of other important players, including Jane (Amanda Warren - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), a businesswoman who has a grudge against her slimy boss (William Baldwin - Backdraft), with her refusal to become his plaything leading to a ceiling in her career progression. The Purge Night may well offer her a way out of that.
In addition, there's a couple who go to a 'Purge party' for socialites, allowing us to see the perspective of the rich and untouchable, and a masked vigilante who appears to be on a spree - intent on killing as many Purge killers as possible.
There's zero tension.
It's a very lightweight story which is padded out by cross-cutting through a number of different plots (mostly involving the above characters), but this only highlights the weaknesses in the narrative, particularly when, after the first episode, you're not really left very far into the plot.
Penelope is on a bus full of people who are slowly being sacrificed as part of a Purge 'cult', but there's zero tension to that. Miguel appears to be randomly trawling the streets for clues, with nightvision goggles but little more of a clue. And the others have banal plot lines which, at least initially, go practically nowhere, and actually the cross-plotting only further dilutes any possible tension.
An alternative idea would have been to slowly reveal to the audience that the different characters' scenes are actually taking place on different Purge nights, with Penelope's plot ending badly, Miguel's strand ending with him finding out the fate of his sister, and the masked vigilante, for example, being a latter-day Miguel, taking revenge for what happened. This kind of thinking may have saved the series , but instead the makers appear happy with a disjointed but largely linear narrative approach (notwithstanding Lost-like flashbacks) which feels at least a decade out of date.
That's perhaps also the trouble with a show releasing once a week; had this been a binge-fest that landed all at the same time, it may have been a slightly better experience - essentially like watching an extended Purge movie. But drawn out episodically, the stories are just too flimsy to work.
Some film-to-TV-series translations work well in long-form storytelling (Jack Ryan), but this is not one of them, and, if they wanted to do it this way, they needed to put some real-time pacing on it - 24 style (although the Purge only lasts 12 hours, so it would suit 12 episodes) - and really crank up the tension. It's bad storytelling in a survival horror to have one character just sit on a bus for a couple of episodes.
It's hard to imagine many having the patience to stick with it.
That said, things do pick up a little in the second episode, with the want-to-murder-the-boss plot getting a little more development, whilst Miguel gets sidetracked (arguably unnecessarily) into a painfully eventful running-the-gauntlet live challenge. But the series, at least so far, shows very little sense of direction or purpose, with no particularly strong characters (Penelope could easily be mistaken for a number of other girls on her bus) and Miguel a lacklustre main-ish protagonist to follow through the night (bring back Grillo!).
Had they not done a 'first' Purge prequel movie, perhaps the events - and violence on the streets - which led up to the creation of the Purge may have made for a slightly more interesting watch, or perhaps they could have been a bit more adventurous with the concept (as previously illustrated with multiple Purge timelines) but this is just a painfully slow way of watching an extended Purge sequel. It's hard to imagine many having the patience to stick with it.
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