“Think of all the good the purge does.”
In 2013, the world was introduced to a small little independent horror film called The Purge. The basis of the film revolves around the idea that, for a twelve hour period, one day out of the year in the United States, citizens, residents and all Americans are able to do whatever it is that they like, without any punishment or laws, including and not limited to; violence, vandalism, theft, rape and of course murder. While the first purge film in the series was revolutionary and kick started a franchise that is now in its fourth entry, the first film unfortunately limited itself to being, quite simply, a thrasher home invasion film with the world of the purge harrowingly surrounding it; the potential for the series was behemoth. Thankfully, the film gained steam and momentum, and more films followed, with the original director and writers on board. With the second entry, the world of the purge was explored to the streets of Los Angeles, where motives of revenge and redemption were explored and showed how regular people handled the deadliest night in America. In The Purge: Election Year, the purge got more political (not that it never was), especially since the looming potential of a somewhat clueless President was on the verge of being elected (he didn’t actually win, did he?).
Politics and tongue-in-cheek social/economically charge commentary is something that the purge series isn’t stranger to, especially within the last two entires in the series. But like any good planned B-Movie film series, the fourth entry in the series is also, technically speaking, the first movie in the series, a prequel. The First Purge is an interesting cinematic approach in terms of shock value, only because, the build up of whether the purge is a successful experiment is answered within minutes of the first film, so what is the point of this film?
Writer and original director of the first three entries, James DeMonaco, who’s love child is basically this series, decides to use the first purge film to show the divide between people and their thoughts on this “experiment”. Sanctioned by the New Founding Fathers of America, the newest political party, who is coincidentally backed any the NRA (National Rifle Association), and developed by scientist Dr.Updale (Marisa Tomei), “the experiment” (the initial name for the purge) was only taking place on Staten Island, one of America’s lowest income and poorly populated cities (coincidence). If you stay on the island, you get paid $5,000. If you participate in the experiment, you get monetary compensation; if you kill someone, well then you get compensated generously. These are all incentives for the residents of Staten Island.
While we quickly become familiar with the main inhabitants of Staten Island, we are also introduced to all the family drama happening on the island as well, for instance, the main protestor and the purge’s biggest rival is the educated and powerfully independent Nya (Lex Scott Davis), whose ex boyfriend Dimitri (Y’lan Noel) is Staten Island biggest gangster, and who’s brother Isaiah (Jovian Wade) is secretly joining in the purge’s festivities, to get back at a local crack addict for nearly cutting open is throat. While the streets belong to Dimitri, his heart still belongs to Nya, despite their past and current relationship woes.
As the experiment commences, we quickly see that many of the people involved and brave enough to withstand staying, spend most of their time praying, socializing or partying on the island. With the exception of the freaky looking crack head Skeletor (Rotimi Paul), who fashioned himself his own Freddy Kruger inspired claws made out of needles, Staten Island and its residents aren’t really purging as expected, unless you consider trap-music inspired street festivals as purging. So, like any good social/political experiment gone wrong in the United States, the government intervenes and sends out their own “citizens”, ex-mercenaries to kill and rid of low-income residents on Staten Island and cleanse the American genome. You can imagine, Dimitri, the only resident on Staten Island who profits from other people’s misery, isn’t happy when the government decides to take out his clientele, so, like any good business owner, who goes out himself to rid of his corporate competition.
There are many things wrong with the First Purge including the film’s main antagonist and protagonists. Perhaps thats the point, I mean, even the woman who developed the purge has her own scene of redmeption, but then again, how is a person redeemed of concieving such a diabolical experiment, especially when she sells it to the most corrupt clients in the world, the American government? Dimitri is hailed as the films main hero by the times the credits roll, but no matter how many “baddies” are killed by his hands, and no matter how many friends he saves, Dimitri is basically the purge 364 days in the year, so making him a hero for a day is less than convincing.
While The First Purge had the potential to be one of the stronger films in the series, it is by far one of the weakest and easily the most B-Movie of them all. While the residents of Staten Island truly inherit a mess of a political system and all its whacky ideas, The First Purge film, inherits a very poorly constructed and thought-out prequel foundation that suffers from surface level thought, relevance and most of all, excitement. While much of the film is lathered Uber-violence, blood and extreme gore, The First Purge is easily the most violent and has the least amount to say.
While the film has many redeeming qualities, including Dimitri, a certified bad-ass and Rambo inspired anti-hero, as well as some very harrowing ideas and thoughts that are revealed with regards to the current status of civil divide and racist plaguing America as this review is written, it is clear that director Gerard McMurray wanted to make a purge film that pushed the idea of “black power” into the purge series. Not only does it work effortlessly, but the film also succeeds at showing just how not far off what we see on screen is happening in real life.
The First Purge is an excruciating film experience; not because what is seen on screen at the multiplexes, but whats seen on screen in our own homes on news channels each and every day.
Night Film Reviews: 6.5 Out of 10 Stars!
What did you think of The First Purge? Needed prequel or re-hashed ideas built for profit? Did anyone else see the resemblance of Dimitri to Chiron in Moonlight? Is Y’lan Noel destined to be the next summer blockbuster action hero? Purge your comments below!