The First Purge Review
Let’s make America great again…with guns and violence
DeMonaco’s fourth instalment of the franchise takes us back to the very beginning, where all the madness and mayhem began.The Purge movie franchise set up an America where all residents could participate in 12 hours of lawlessness for one day a year. All crime is legal with no repercussions and anyone can do anything to anybody. The first three films were all written and directed by James DeMonaco who used this idea to deliver films that explored socio-political issues such as race, class and capitalism.
The 2016 instalment, The Purge: Election Year, featuring a female presidential candidate, perhaps felt timely and appropriate for the time in which it was released, and sought to provide a political commentary on the current events of the time. Two years later and we now have a prequel, a ‘how it all started’ episode in this saga. This time around though, DeMonaco has given up the director’s chair to relative newcomer Gerard McMurray.
The first three films explored socio-political issues such as race, class and capitalism.
The First Purge takes us back to the very beginning, before legalised violence became a thing. America is in a state of turmoil, with unemployment rates increasing, social unrest in the streets and riots breaking out across the country. We are shown this early on through a montage that sets up the America we are stepping foot into.
Determined to bring the country back to a state of greatness is the newly elected, and backed by the NRA, extremely religious political party: the New Founding Fathers of America whose main objective is to bring crime rates down. And what better way to do this than to allow one night a year when citizens can purge themselves of any pent up aggression and anger without facing the consequences of their actions?
Based on a theory by psychologist Dr. Updale (Marisa Tomei) the NFFA decide to trial their new scheme in a contained location, Staten Island. Monetary incentives are given to residents to encourage them to stay on the island and participate in the purge, which seems to be successful given that they target the impoverished neighbourhoods.
But not everyone is on board with this night of mayhem and madness. Heading up protests against the ensuing purge is Nya (Lex Scott Davis) who can see the purge for what it is: an excuse for those living in low-income areas to off each other in exchange for money. At the other end of the spectrum is local drug king-pin Dmitri (Y'lan Noel) who is more concerned about being off-ed by rival gangs and having his cash or stash raided.
As the countdown to the first purge commences Chief of Staff - Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh) and the good doctor watch the anarchy unfold from a safe distance but when things go unexpectedly wrong, they take drastic steps to ensure that their little experiment proves fruitful, whatever the cost.
Taken for an action-horror-thriller flick, even if you could ignore the social commentary, The First Purge is a solid enough film.
For fans of the existing three films, The First Purge is not going to disappoint. It’s both violent and graphic, never shying away from the high body count, and with time spent lingering over some of the kills it’s not for the feint hearted. The film is generally put together well using tropes and themes from a different genres.
There are a number of nice set pieces that demonstrate McMurray’s vision and ability to direct an action sequence. The climactical blowout, for example, sees Noel’s Dmitri exhibit military style moves as he faces off with an SS like villain and his cronies in a performance that harks back to classic action heroes from days gone by.
The First Purge is rife with social commentary and it is hard not to see the connection between events that are unfolding in the news to those that occur on screen. A group of men dressed as police officers beat a black man. White supremacists shoot out a church full of people. One woman shouts ‘pussy-grabbing motherfucker’ to a potential assailant. But for all it’s attempts to draw on and question the state of America it doesn’t do so without issue.
Ultimately the film rests on a question of morality. As an audience we are expected to side with a character who wants to protect his community but who at the same time is a known drug dealer. We are supposed to question a government that is backed by the NRA who encourage violence while encouraged to side with the gangsters that lovingly lock and load shiny new weapons and see no harm in taking out a rival gang, purge or no purge.
It has everything fans of the first three films will be looking for.
It was also slightly frustrating that Davis’s Nya started out as a strong minded character who could hold her own, but ultimately has to rely on a male to help her out…but let’s not get into that here. All that aside though, you can appreciate what McMurray and DeMonaco were striving to achieve. With the black lives matter movement and the way other ethnic groups/minorities are being treated frequently being featured in the media, as well as the various questions surrounding the state of the American government, it was only going to be a matter of time before a film would make direct reference to it all. And you have to hope that having a film like this on general release will open the doors for debate and discussion.
Taken for what it is, an action-horror-thriller flick, even if you could ignore the social commentary leaping off the screen at you, The First Purge is a solid enough film that has everything fans of the first three films will be looking for. And despite knowing how it all works out, the final words ‘Now we fight’ gives the distinct impression that this won’t be the last in the franchise.
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