Friday, 30 September 2016

Train to Busan (South Korea 2016: Dir Yeon Sang-ho)

Zombie movies have been around for decades. The genre shows no signs of fading (in fact quite the opposite), so these days to keep things fresh filmmakers often approach such films with a view to exploiting their cross genre potential: so we’ve had the zombie romance movie, the zombie comedy, the zombie war film, the zombie animals attack movie…and now, courtesy of South Korea’s Yeon Sang-ho, we have the zombie disaster movie.

Seok Woo is a misanthropic financial investor with a failed marriage and a daughter, Soo-an, who spends time split between separated parents. You can tell that Seok Woo’s a bit of a meanie – he buys his daughter a present for her birthday that he’d already bought her earlier that year, and his ex-wife is listed on his phone as just that – ‘ex wife.’ He also categorises most of his business contacts on the same phone as ‘lemmings.’

Currently staying with dad but missing mum, Soo-an’s birthday wish is to take the train and visit her mother in Busan, and Seok Woo grudgingly agrees to alter his business schedule to accompany his daughter on the journey. But as the train pulls away from Seoul station, the city’s placed under lockdown following a viral outbreak throughout the country – unfortunately one of the last people to board is an early victim of the infection.

The rest of Train to Busan is a series of incredibly tense set pieces as the numbers of infected on the train rise exponentially, and the uninfected survivors attempt to stay alive until the train reaches Busan.
Director Sang-ho’s background is in animation, which is to the film's advantage as he stages the action really well, filling the screen with incident, and his wide shots of city devastation look stunning. The rise of the infected, pouring between train carriages and smashing through sheets of broken glass like swarms of insects, is both terrifying and relentless. And the infection spreads in seconds, providing that the zombie gets a decent bite in (of course key characters who become infected are only partly chomped, therefore taking much longer to turn, and fulfilling one of the great disaster movie staples, the long death scene). The action is enhanced no end by the zombies being of the very fast and incredibly athletic variety (is there any other type these days?), although they're not so bright, having a problem with door handles and darkness.

And talking of disaster movies, this film is full of steals from that genre. Stick thin characterisation at the beginning of the movie to establish the key players; evil ‘must-survive-at-any-cost’ businessman who’ll step on anyone to stay alive; final reel with major character change triggered by emotional epiphany; they’re all here. I did slightly take exception to little Kim Su-an ( who very convincingly plays Soo-an), not because she isn’t a terrific actress, but more that she spends the last twenty minutes of the film screaming and crying, which to me felt more than a little exploitative and rather unnecessary for a very young girl to be put through.

Critics have praised  this film for its combination of horror and heart tugging moments - personally I felt these elements, combined with the broad humour (also to be found in films like Joon Ho Bong's 2006 movie The Host) didn't quite gel. But really Train to Busan is all about the action. At two hours long it rarely flags, and Sang-ho escapes the limitations of a film set on one train by breaking up the set pieces, allowing the audience to recover themselves before the next slice of undead action. It’s nail biting stuff and, despite my slight concerns, really does breathe new life into the genre.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Video Killer (UK 2016: Dir Richard Mansfield) including interview with the director

Two of Video Killer director Richard Mansfield's earlier 'shadow' films, 2015's Count Magnus and this year's The Story of an Appearance and a Disappearance, were based on short stories by master of weird fiction M R James. The spirit of James is very much present in Video Killer, a quite extraordinary micro budget film which also, in its fractured and oblique storytelling style, recalls Inland Empire-era David Lynch.

Amy is a young woman, documenting day to day life on her phone, who has been plagued with her doorbell being rung every morning at the same time. There's no one there, but on one of the occasions a dirty old VHS tape has been left for her. The tape contains some crude animation, which she describes as being like an old Public Information Film, showing a young boy who is killed when his kite sails into power cables. There's also another strange figure with bleeding eyes, and the animation is interspersed with live action footage of a woman being menaced by a man in a mask which seems to disappear when she re-watches the tape.

Elsewhere we see another man, Michael, who calls himself Victim 88 and has been summoned to a park he frequented as a child, also as a result of receiving what we assume is a similar tape.

Meanwhile another victim films himself, clearly in some distress, being drawn to an abandoned garage again and again to meet a frightening figure, also wearing a mask. Is this a dream or reality? And another man, filming himself, sits in a tube train carriage, convinced he's being watched.

These fractured but creepy story strands (together with odd inserted nightmare scenes) gradually pull together, but don't expect everything to be tidily explained - Video Killer is a film about urban paranoia and primal fear which doesn't offer any easy answers. It's indebted to a number of J-Horror films like Hideo Nakata's 1998 movie Ring (there's a couple of scenes with lengths of murderous video tape which are genuinely weird), but the film also captures a world - or more precisely north London - where everything is filmed, and the concepts of  'is it live or is it Memorex?' (to quote an old ad line) are stretched to breaking point.

Mansfield films with a variety of filters and achieves some very unsettling effects on little more than careful lighting and great camerawork. The film also benefits greatly from a moody and occasionally jarring soundtrack from the enigmatically named D. Smoker, and the confusion of story strands adds a richness to the events which all transcend its budget - this is a film maker who knows what he's doing.

Mansfield and his husband Daniel (who co-produced Video Killer) are some of the more interesting low budget UK filmmakers working at the moment. As well as a number of interesting and stylish short films utilising simple but effective silhouette figures (a very traditional almost magic lantern presentation style), Richard made the rather oblique gay supernatural drama The Secret Path back in 2014 and the equally eliptical The Mothman Curse (filmed in blurry Guy Maddin-esque black and white and using London's The Cinema Museum as a location) the same year. Daniel Mansfield, who has collaborated with Richard on many of his projects, made the erotic vampire thriller Drink Me in 2015 and has just completed the extraordinary John Waters-esque Showgirls 3: London Calling. Whew!

Fascinated with the ingenuity and overall chutzpah evidenced by Video Killer and the director's other work, I asked him a few questions about it:

DEoL: Richard, how did the idea for Video Killer come about?

RM: The idea for VK came when I was thinking of making a web series about a recurring demonic stalker called Babyface. I think it could have worked well as a series but I love making features and changed my mind to edit it together as one film. I love the idea of a curse and old technology. I felt a real sense of nostalgia towards VHS tapes and it seemed like a fun way to tell a story, and I could include more experimental material and make it part of the strange films people were receiving.

DEoL: If you don't mind me saying, Video Killer seems like a rather exploitational title for a film that is actually much more experimental than that. So why did you choose it?

RM: I don’t mind you saying! The title is very exploitational and is intended to be. Getting a film’s title and imagery right to sell it is quite a tricky thing. With most low/no-budget horrors a stock image will be used for its marketing rather than actual images from the film. It’s to make it appear more ‘Hollywood.’ It’s pretty cynical but then there are so many movies being released now it’s hard to find a way to stand out.  My other feature The Mothman Curse was originally titled Who is coming but no one was interested so I retitled it and a distributor got straight back to me! If you have an idea of a more accurate title for VK I’d love to hear it. It’s never really had any other working titles (other than VHS Killer). I have written a sort-of-sequel, maybe I could use your suggestion if I ever get to make it (I've been thinking hard on this one, readers, believe me - Ed).

DEoL: Tell me a bit about the casting and filming process.
RM: I’ve worked with all the cast of VK before and all are friends - we were round at Victoria’s (Victoria Falls, who plays Amy) last night for dinner - so it was a real pleasure to work on. Victoria had worked on several of my husband Daniel’s films and I thought she’d be great in a lead role. We filmed most of her scenes in one weekend - the hottest weekend of 2014. Overall I spent about 5-6 days filming which is a pretty usual timescale for all my features. VK was simpler because I shot everyone’s scenes separately with the exception of Amy and Michael’s scene together. I much prefer to tailor roles to individual actors rather than cast a role specifically. I find the process then feels more organic. Some of the video nightmares came from unused footage from one of Daniel’s films that was never completed. He gave me the idea to use the Resusci-Anne mask (used in CPR training - Ed) which I found weirdly beautiful and very creepy.

DEoL: I notice that the spirit of M R James haunts a lot of your work - certainly it's strong in VK. Were there other influences at play when making the film?

RM: M R James is a huge influence on all my films, particularly the idea of old technology harbouring ancient evils or being a spirit conduit. Most of my influences come from film but I had a supernatural experience when I was a child and I think it has fascinated/scarred me for life. For a while I was aware of a shadowy figure in my bedroom silhouetted against the window at night. It terrified me and I’ve never forgotten it. I found out many years later that the cottage was rumoured to be haunted. My favourite film of all time is Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls - it’s so wonderful and I love its unearthly atmosphere. Also the films of David Lynch, John Carpenter's The Fog and Halloween, and Jack Clayton’s The Innocents. I’ve recently re-discovered Blood on Satan’s Claw which terrified me as a teenager. I really go for the atmospherics. I think it’s essential, and it’s so often missing from most modern horror films.

DEoL: Can you tell me anything about your next projects, The Devil Waits, Fright Christmas and House of the Mothman, which I take it is a sequel to The Mothman's Curse?  
RM: The Devil Waits is probably going to be re-titled Scare Bear. It’s a folk-horror with mainly one actor (Henry Regan from VK and The Secret Path). A young man called Tommy is metal detecting in the woods in 1978; he starts to dig up toys that remind him of his childhood and his sister Grace who went missing when she was 8. He digs up a toy intercom telephone and Grace starts calling him and tells him about her friend Mister Bones, a sinister figure with a teddy bear head! Again we filmed it for a week in the woods in June and it will feature some weird marionette shows. The soundtrack is being created by George Hoyle and his band ‘Cunning People’ and evokes films like The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan’s Claw. I’ll be releasing it digitally in early 2017 hopefully.

Fright Christmas was going to be a film about Krampus but I’ve cancelled it and can’t remove it from IMDB! House of the Mothman is a planned follow up to The Mothman's Curse but will stand alone as its own piece. The original Curse was filmed with an experimental black and white camera which gave a beautiful low-resolution image but this will be much more conventionally filmed. I was due to make the film back in April but two cast members pulled out and so I put Scare Bear into production instead. I’m currently re-writing the script but I’m unsure yet as to whether it’ll get filmed.

DEoL: Thanks very much for your time Richard. We'll be looking out for Scare Bear!

Video Killer is available now on DVD from here and to rent or buy on Google Play.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Dark Eyes of London Bumper Holiday Special - Reviews of The Rezort (2016), Cell (2016). Black Road (2016), Viral (2016), Bleed (2016), I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016), Worry Dolls (2016), Darkest Day (2015), The Darkness (2016) and The Remains (2016)

Just back from my late summer break - yes, I had a lovely time, thanks for asking - but I also got to watch some films. So in a change from the usual single posts here's a quick trot through ten movies that I caught up with while sunning myself.

The Rezort aka Generation Z (UK 2015: Dir Steve Barker) A valiant attempt to paint something different on the tabula rasa canvas of the zombie movie. In the near future, following a global pandemic from which the world recovers, a group of the 'infected' are kept captive on an island with tourists paying to stay there and hunt the zombies down as sport. The cast are therefore a largely unlikeable bunch of ghouls, with the exception of Melanie (Jessica de Gouw, a ringer for Kirsten Stewart) who has her own infected back story and can't bring herself to open fire at the, er game (this gives her the same 'final girl' status as the one who won't have sex in a stalk 'n' slash film). When the security system is compromised the zombies are released to get their own back on their tormentors and things really take off. A rather shaky first half is quickly forgotten once the zombies start rampaging, and when island complex owner Wilton gets hers (a 'baddie' performance by Claire Goose that should secure her a part in a future Paul W.S. Anderson movie) we're on the side of the infected. Far better than its budget would suggest and with a nice Soylent Green style final reel twist, this latest from Steve Barker is another successful twist on the zombie theme from the creator of the equally inventive and watchable Outpost (2008) and Outpost: Black Sun (2012).

Cell (US 2016: Dir Tod Williams) Ah, the Stephen King adaptation. Surprised there are still directors out there willing to give it a go? Yep, me too. Tod (Paranormal Activity 2) Williams takes on the writer's doorstep of a novel about the world turned into psychotic zombies after receiving a communal signal through their mobile phones. I haven't read it, but the plot sounded like a curmudgeonly bit of schadenfreude to me. Cell starts with a big bang and then goes on to develop its characters (and there are a lot of them) as the survivors of the catastrophe hook up with each other and try and make sense of their new world. As usual there's some Kingisms which just don't work on screen - in this case it's the Raggedy Man character, who I understand is pivotal in the book but is a bit of a spare part in the movie, and whose role is left unexplained. John Cusack and Samuel L Jackson are on good form here (although what Cusack was doing with a syrup on loan from Edward Scissorhands beats me - oh, that was his real hair?) and a gradual sense of nihilism creeps into the movie, asking the viewer to take it more seriously than perhaps they were expecting (rather like the 2007 King adaptation, Frank Darabont's The Mist). It's a film that may improve on second viewing.

Black Road (US 2016: Dir Gary Lundgren) An ultra low budget sci fi flick that could do with a lot more money and a decent script to elevate it above its cheap and not particularly cheerful state. In the year 2029, Dylan is an ex-military agent turned part cyborg - he's been equipped with a dynamic cerebral implant called Clyde, who by being able to 'talk' to the agent acts as Dylan's point man and conscience too. Dylan meets Lisa, who asks our cyber-hero to help her get some money owed from her ex-husband, in return for certain, er, favours. The sci-fi elements are pretty thin on the ground, and don't do much to disguise a Raymond Chandler-esque 'who can you trust?' story heavy on the wise-ass gumshoe dialogue. It's got one or two non steamy PG sex scenes and some nice shots of the Oregon coastline. The whole thing feels like a direct to video 1980s B flick, not helped by a retro synth score from John Askew. Age difference fans note; as Lisa 50 year old Leilani Sarelle is nearly twenty years older than Sam Daly as Dylan.

Viral (US 2016: Dir Henry Joost, Ariel Shulman) This is a superb little movie, effectively combining horror with an interesting domestic drama. Set in a new Californian dream home estate (think Cuesta Verde in the 1982 version of Poltergeist) into which sisters Stacey and Emma have moved with their father, who was laid off from his original job and has secured a teaching position in a local high school. Elsewhere in the County a killer virus, originating in fly larvae, starts to infect the local community and the whole estate is placed under curfew. Stacey and Emma are left alone in the house, while their father is stranded at school. It's the small details in Viral that make it a cut above most films featuring 'infected' communities, and the big/little sister bond between Stacey and Emma is very believable. Director Henry Joost (2011's Paranormal Activity 3) balances the human drama with the horror elements perfectly - in many ways this is much more a film about relationships than it is about zombies, but manages to be pretty scary at times as well.

Bleed (US 2016: Dir Tripp Rhame) An embarrassment of riches is probably the best thing I can say about Bleed, a movie which throws in so many bits from other horror movies that it completely forgets to have an identity of its own. Sarah and her husband Matt move into a house in the woods, inviting their friends Bree and her boyfriend Dave. Sarah's errant brother Eric also turns up with his squeeze, the very flaky Skye. Eric and Skye have a bit of a ghost hunting thing going on, and when they learn that infamous local killer Kane, who was part of a satanic cult, was killed in a local and now abandoned prison, the group set out to investigate. Their snooping around causes the unleashing of a supernatural entity, hellbent on carrying out an ancient ritual sacrifice with our gang as the intended victims. This one is quite literally all over the place, with by-the-numbers characterisation, backwoods extras and a lot of running about in the woods. Admittedly some of the supernatural action is quite well-staged, but it's slightly ruined by a clubby soundtrack which just doesn't work against what we're seeing. Bonus points for a non-PG13 ending, but generally not that great.

I Am Not a Serial Killer (Ireland/UK 2016: Dir Billy O'Brien) Director O'Brien was responsible for the impressive farmland creature feature Isolation back in 2005, and 2014's military sci-fi flick The Hybrid aka Scintilla, which also had its moments. IANaSK is quite a change of pace, a seriously slow burn small town USA thriller. "Animal cruelty predicts violent behaviour, but until I read that I didn't think it was wrong." This comes from John Wayne Cleaver (excellently played by Max Records), a sociopathic young man whose mum runs the town mortuary, whom he assists with autopsies - credentials that don't exactly help him fit in at school. When a series of murders take place, John relieves his boredom by turning amateur sleuth - after all, what better person to catch a killer than one with the same impulses, albeit not acted upon? Chief suspect is old man Crowley (brilliantly played by Christopher Lloyd, who is lining his pension pot with a string of grizzled support roles these days). But is he really the killer? IANaSK is based on a young adult novel by Dan Wells, and positions itself both for that market and also a more adult one. From time to time this attempt at cross sectional appeal makes for a rather uneven tone (the first half is arguably more successful than the second), but this is a minor gripe - it's both a coming of age tale and mumblecore thriller that contains a rich vein of dark humour, and uses its small town Minnesota settings to great effect.

Worry Dolls aka The Devil's Dolls (US 2016: Dir Padraig Reynolds) The story of a set of cursed 'worry dolls' (a traditional native doll which is used by people to share their problems) imbued with all sorts of badness by a serial killer. When the dolls fall into more innocent hands, disseminated by a little girl who makes them into craft jewellery for sale, they inspire the new owners to similarly murderous acts. Reynolds' previous feature was 2011's Rites of Spring, which was a similarly intense and occasionally torture-porn ridden offering. Like that film Worry Dolls is low on plot and high on atmospherics, although once the evil is alive and well the action is reduced to a lot of running around in darkened rooms, offering little suspense or terror. While its final shot suggests the possibility of a sequel I'm pretty sure every aspect of this rather slim premise has been effectively investigated in the movie's hour and a half. It's an attempt to do something different, but only passably successful.

Darkest Day (UK 2015: Dir Dan Rickard) I missed this 'virus creates zombies' film when it came out last year so have only now had a chance to see it. The cover art rather over promises the content of a film that reportedly cost £1000 to make by Rickard and a group of his mates in and around the seaside town of Brighton. So, does the world need an unofficial remake of 28 Days Later? Probably not, but don't write off this amateur hour offering quite yet - there are some interesting things going on here. Rickard plays Dan, one of a small group of survivors who hole up in their Brighton home after a virus turns the rest of the resort population into rampaging zombies. They also have to cope with the arrival of the trigger-happy military who have been drafted in to tackle the situation. The cast are largely non actors with most of the lines improvised. This actually works in the film's favour - indeed the bickering among the group feels extremely real to anyone who's had to endure student house shares at any point in their life. Rickard stops the movie feeling like just another flick shot on a phone by inventive use of model work and post production wizardry which multiplies the small cast of soldiers to almost garrison proportions. Interestingly this is a film that finds its feet as it unfolds. By the end the viewer quite forgets its micro-budget origins - some deft photography and sharp editing make for a really exciting finish, as the group develop from frightened individuals to an organised band of zombie killers, without sacrificing their basic studentness. "Can we go to the pub now?" asks one of them after a particularly gruelling battle with the 'infected'. Yep, go on, you've all earned it.

The Darkness (US 2016: Dir Greg McLean) Well what's happened here then? Not even the combined acting talents of Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell can save this one. And yes that is the same Greg McLean who gave us Wolf Creek (2005), Wolf Creek 2 (2013) and the splendid Rogue (2007). While barbecuing in the Grand Canyon (as you do), Michael, the autistic son of Peter Taylor (Bacon) finds some curiously etched stones which he brings back with him, unbeknownst to his dad and mum Bronny (Mitchell). It turns out that the theft has triggered the resurrection of elemental spirits, trapped in the stones and guarded by an native indian race. The spirits take the form of things like snakes, dogs and a tortoise (one of these is in fact not true, but it would have been good) and proceed to stalk the family, bringing on 'The Darkness' of the title. But because we're in PG-13 horror land, nothing horrific happens. In a hilarious bit of cod internet research, the truth about the origin of the manifestations is revealed, as the family (who of course have a variety of issue-of-the-week problems including reformed alcoholism, bulimia and philandering) gradually meltdown. A mystic is brought in to help the family, and despite knowing everything about 'The Darkness' fails to tell the family that they've probably taken something that doesn't belong to them and that replacing the stones will make it all stop - I suppose that would have denied the audience the final reel faux Poltergeist lightshow, but by then it's all too little too late. The leaden script and desultory performances complete the overall classification of 'clunker' but, seriously, why McLean, why? Next year's Wolf Creek 3 better be good, that's all I can say.

The Remains (US 2016: Dir Thomas Della Bella) Slightly stretching the PG-13 template (a bit more swearing and some mild gore, not to mention some dodgy makeup) doesn't make this haunted house movie any less wearing. Recently widowed dad John moves his family (stroppy screamo-fan teenage daughter Izzy and younger siblings Aiden and Victoria) into a rambling house to make a new start. What they don't know is that back in the 1880s the premises were originally used as a seance parlour; one particular session, held to locate a missing girl, resulted in a death - and whatever entity caused the fatality lives on in the house. Shortly after moving in the property starts behaving oddly. Doors slam, furniture left in the house seems to have a mind of its own, an old gramophone plays by itself, there's a weird dolls' house on the first floor landing - and this all starts to have an effect on the kids. A vision of the lost little girl, giving a suitably enigmatic warning, heralds the arrival of the spirit of Madame Addison, the mistress of seances, an all around demonic character with high speed Woman in Black style mobility talents and fright mask makeup. Will the family work out how to exorcise the demon presence? Who will survive? Who cares. This is truly laughable stuff, dull as ditch-water, full of supporting characters who drift in and out of the story with no real purpose except to dole out warnings to John that he fails to pick up on. Really rather awful.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Blair Witch (US 2016: Dir Adam Wingard)

It's twenty years after the depicted events in 1999's The Blair Witch Project, where a group of filmmakers in search of the legendary Blair Witch went missing in the woods around Burkittsville, Maryland, with the recovery of footage of their exploits the only record of their expedition. James, the brother of Heather, one of the original group, is convinced via some more recently internet uploaded film that his sister may still be in the strange house in the woods which was the final filmed location of the original party. He assembles a new team to go back to Burkittsville, including the owner of the recent footage who knows the filming location, to track down his sister and solve the mystery of the Blair Witch.

One of the main problems with Adam (2011's You're Next, 2014's The Guest) Wingard's irritating and unnecessary film is that it fails both as a sequel and as a movie in its own right. As a follow up to the The Blair Witch Project, it asks the audience to believe that a seemingly sane man is convinced his own sister could survive for twenty years in a house which presumably was subject to a full police investigation after the first events. It also asks that audience to accept that none of the new group of 'Witch hunters' seems to know anything about the legend (in fact they seem pretty clueless all round) despite the notoriety of the events surrounding the original disappearances. Nothing new is added narratively, apart from stressing that 'bad things only happen after dark', and worse, the actions of our new party merely mirror the mistakes of the 1999 group - presumably they didn't study the footage that closely.

Wingard's decision to make the film entirely his own at just past the hour mark (shorthand for bonkers) would be more palatable if he had spent any of the previous sixty minutes investing his two dimensional cast with personalities or motive. As it is they're all scarcely more than cannon fodder being subjected to the director's final reel penchant for noisy abstraction. As the movie revs up for its last scenes when, as in the original film, the remaining cast find themselves in the house in the woods, Blair Witch becomes a shaky (as opposed to steadi) cam rattle around rooms and corridors more effectively and coherently rendered by Sam Raimi in The Evil Dead thirty five years previously. I realise that the point of the last part of the movie was to capture a real sense of disorientation and terror - I just would have liked it to have had more of, well, a point.

Perhaps the best use of Blair Witch is to act as one bookend showing how far the found footage genre has come (or more precisely the cul de sac in which it now finds itself), with the original movie as the other; Wingard has clearly drawn from his own segments in the first two V/H/S films as a template, glitches and everything, for his particular take. One could argue that the sense of naivety present in the original film limited its dramatic value, but it's the subtlety on display in The Blair Witch Project that keeps me coming back to it, year on year. As actor and musician Matt Berry rightly pointed out concerning the 1999 movie in a recent interview, the bizarre sounds generated by the 'witch' in the middle of the night, including the sound of children playing and the breaking of branches, heard by a terrified Josh, Heather and Mike, is a triumph of creepiness. Blair Witch offers the same - sometimes scene-for-scene - but louder, crasser and with more shouting and running. Oh and yes you do see it (fleetingly), which is a decision no more stupid than those in the rest of the film. 

A footnote: although Blair Witch takes great pains to convince us that we're back in the same actual Maryland woods as the first film (similar State locations were also used in the unfairly ill-regarded sequel, 2000's Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2), Wingard's follow-up was in fact shot in British Colombia, Canada. Wow, they really were lost.

Friday, 9 September 2016

The Purge: Election Year (US 2016: Dir James DeMonaco)

While I generally dislike the term 'franchise' the fact that the three (to date) movies in the Purge series have been written and directed by the same person at least allows the audience to see how one man's vision (James DeMonaco) develops and expands his original concept.

2013's original The Purge, set in the year 2022, was essentially a 'home invasion' movie which largely squandered any opportunity to exploit the mayhem inherent in the fictional annual night of violence - where nearly all laws are suspended, including murder - by basing most of the film in one house. The following year's The Purge: Anarchy widened the action by taking it onto the streets and basing it around a couple whose car stalls minutes before the Purge's ominous sirens wail. It also introduced a character - Leo Barnes, out to avenge his son's death - who is pivotal in helping the couple and others to survive the night.

The Purge: Election Year, set in 2040, 21 years after the first Purge, shows a country divided, with the ruling 'New Founding Fathers of America' (NFFA), the devisers and supporters of the event, being challenged by presidential rival Charlie Roan, whose family were killed during one of the first Purges. Roan represents a growing band of anti Purgers who suspect that the liberation of the Purge event is a mask for class cleansing and cuts to welfare. The NFFA take the opportunity of relaxing a Purge rule whereby high government officials are exempted from being attacked during the event. Sensing Roan's life in danger, Leo Barnes, now chief of security to the senator, must keep the candidate alive, allying with various groups during the night.

The latest film in the (ugh) franchise looks to be its biggest budgeted yet. DeMonaco's direction has also grown in confidence. We're far from the tentative steps into Purge-land delivered in the original movie: The Purge: Election Year is a full-on actioner, reminiscent of the straight to video movies of the 1980s (usually dubbed for English audiences) where renegade bands of anti-heroes do battle in cities of the near future. DeMonaco also assumes his audience has seen the other Purge movies, and thankfully doesn't let any needless exposition get in the way of the action.

On the downside this is the longest of the three films and, at getting on for nearly two hours, it does rather sag in the middle. Once the overall theme of the film is established - tight situation, shoot out, new alliance with another group, another tight spot - your enjoyment of the movie is going to depend on how much you loved this type of film the first time round.

Watching The Purge: Election Year I was also struck how much the series is basically a more vicious version of The Hunger Games. The killing of humans in both sets of films is structured as an appeasement or as something with a higher purpose, the populace fooled into thinking that there is a good reason for the killing. Both (gak) franchises have a small but growing group of dissenters recognising the truth, and taking renegade action against dubious political types whose essential evilness contrasts with the good of the rebels, despite the violence they use to achieve their own ends.