Brutally violent and unrelentingly realistic, New French Extremity has found a home in the hearts of American horror fans. Classics such as MARTYRS, INSIDE, and HIGH TENSION are now must-watch films for those looking to expand their appreciation of the genre. But while audiences and scholars celebrate the violence, special effects, and savage bleakness, NFE films offer more than just blood and violence on the silver screen.
The NFE movement tackled the culture and history of France – a country that presents itself as the epitome of the bourgeoisie, cultured, and liberal. But the history of the European country tells a different story; one marked with violence, bigotry, misogyny, and overall hate and distrust of the other. Often, NFE films deal with people at the edges of society – immigrants and minorities, prostitutes, and LGBT communities – and show their violent plight and equally violent revenge. The movies are responses to powerful, right-wing bigots – or analogies of colonial horrors and missteps.
NFE is distinctly, and most obviously, French. However, there’s a bubbling of similar rebellious filmmaking in American cinema. It’s, so far, not as blatant, overt, or violent as NFE, but the foundation for an Americanized version of extreme, rebellious horror is already here.
At the core of this American Extremity is THE PURGE franchise. While moviegoers gobble up the idea of The Purge – a one-night-a-year celebration of violence and lawlessness – the undertones of eliminating societies undesirables by governmental policy and police action are a central theme. James DeMonaco, writer and director of the first three movies – and writer of THE FIRST PURGE – does not hide the movies’ undertones or messages. However, the over-top-top antics and subversive nature dull the bite of the series’ broader message. Where NFE pulls no punches, THE PURGE still needs an R rating to play in cinemas across the country.
In THE PURGE franchise, the New Founding Fathers – the old, white, and ultra-conservative manifestation of a radicalized Republican party – are DeMonaco’s vision of conservatism run amok in the name of safety and security. The series, especially ANARCHY and ELECTION YEAR, embody the same anti anti-minority message as many of the NFE films that focus on the plights of immigrants, minorities, and the poor.
The upcoming fourth installment in the series, THE FIRST PURGE, deals with government propaganda – necessary lies to make it appear The Purge is a success – to justify its continuation. It seems to do so by stacking the cards in its favor through violence, pushing the citizenry to retaliate, thus perpetuating the notion that the Purge is an essential part of American culture. At its core, THE PURGE franchise embodies minorities’ fears of government – from its police to the policies it passes.