There was some kind of strange alchemy going on when they put together the trailer for The Purge that convinced mainstream audiences that this was absolutely the next movie thriller they needed to go out to the theater to see. Whether it was just the weird masks that the bad guys wore, or the fact that the home invasion angle played on a deep-seated fear that afflicts most people, there was something in there that had every person I talked to for a month leading up to the film’s release asking me if I’d heard anything about it yet. And then the fairly thrifty production went on to earn somewhere around $89 million worldwide after its release.
The sad part of that success story is that the movie just didn’t end up being any good though. It spent way too much time explaining a premise that didn’t hold up under scrutiny, it tried to get too heady when it should have been a survival romp, and in general it was just a big bummer for all of the people who went into it feeling excited. Of course, seeing as the film was so profitable, the less than ideal reactions it got aren’t stopping it from getting a sequel, and though original writer and director James DeMonaco is all set to return for The Purge 2, there has been some indication from the casting process that the sequel could end up being a lot more engaging than the original.
First off, The Purge 2 has avoided bringing any of the characters back from the first film, so instead of having to sit through another movie where Ethan Hawke slums it while stumbling around in the dark, they’ve gone for an actor who is much more action-friendly to be the new lead—Frank Grillo. While he’s not exactly a household name yet, Grillo has had supporting roles in a lot of really high profile films over the last few years, including Warrior, The Grey, Gangster Squad, and soon Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He’s an actor who could soon break out and become a star, and a lead role in a movie that’s as sure to be heavily promoted as The Purge 2 could be just the thing to do it, especially if it strays away from the heavy-handed moralizing of the first film and sticks closer to an action-survival story, which the fit but relatable Grillo seems like he’d have a great aptitude for.
The new lead isn’t the only thing to be excited about as far as the casting DeMonaco has done for The Purge 2 either. He’s also been putting together a supporting cast that features a few beloved names from a few beloved TV shows, including The Wire and Boardwalk Empire’s Michael K. Williams, Friday Night Lights actor Zach Gilford, and Lost actor Kiele Sanchez. That’s quite a bit more fan service than the original film that featured, Hawke, Lena Headey and then… those other people who were in The Purge. Put some tiaras and ball gowns or something silly on these people in the trailer and this sequel could once again tap into the zeitgeist and get everyone pumped to trek out to the theater.
The real reason we’re talking about the casting of The Purge 2 right now though is that The Wrap has just reported DeMonaco has signed up a promising young actor named Keith Stanfield to be the next name to join the film, and he’s just the sort of performer who could lend this movie some necessary heart, either in the role of a persecuted victim or as one of the lost souls who’s looking to take out his aggressions on other people during this world’s annual night of lawlessness.
If you don’t recognize Stanfield, he was one of the young actors who appeared in last year’s standout film Short Term 12, which was a project that was notable largely because of the quality of the performances that its ensemble cast gave—an ensemble who in many ways had the entire film stole out from under them by Stanfield. There he played a character named Marcus, who came from a pretty trauma-filled past and was now consequently filled with all sorts of boiling feelings of rage and resentment. Despite his background and the feelings raging inside of him, however, Marcus was a good person, and Stanfield was absolutely magnetic while not only showing the internal struggle that his character’s conflicting motivations were putting him through, but also by projecting an air of intimidation that was at the same time heart-breaking and legitimately scary.
If the performance he gave in that last film is at all indicative of what Stanfield in going to be able to bring to his roles in the future, then there’s likely no end to the contributions he could make to a movie that’s sure to be as inherently drama-filled as The Purge 2. If you haven’t seen Short Term 12 yet, and want to catch a glimpse of what Stanfield is all about, check out this promotional video that was put together for the film, which has a rap that Stanfield performed in character layered over it. Can this kid sell intensity or what?