The First Purge – USA, 2018

‘A nation reborn’

The First Purge is a 2018 American dystopian action horror film directed by Gerard McMurray from a screenplay by James DeMonaco. It is a prequel to 2013’s The Purge and is the fourth movie in The Purge franchise.

The film stars Y’Lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Luna Lauren Velez, and Marisa Tomei.

To push the crime rate below one percent for the rest of the year, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) test a sociological theory that vents aggression for one night in one isolated community. But when the violence of oppressors meets the rage of the marginalised, the contagion will explode from the trial-city borders and spread across the nation…

Review:

Staten Island has been set aside for the kick-off of the first test purge; residents can choose whether to stay or go before the twelve hour event begins. If you stay, you’ll be paid; if you choose to also participate, you’re promised a hefty bonus (if you live), and you’re provided contacts which will record your violent actions for subsequent mediacast. A disparate group of people stay and for differing reasons: church goers, partiers, a hand-full of the disgruntled, a few psychopaths, and most important of all, Dimtri (Y’Lan Noel), the local Mac Daddy drug kingpin; but, being a good businessman, he and his henchmen are staying not to inflict carnage but to make sure his money and his macho brand stay intact.

The First Purge is odd. James DeMonaco’s other films in the series are fairly balanced and sober observations of human behaviour when it’s cut loose, ala Lord of the Flies. People using the purge to take out annoying relatives, annoying neighbours, husbands whose wives had grown tired of them, “friends” jealous of other “friends”. Most important of all, though, is what accompanies the murders in the other films – the full range of emotions associated with the act, whether spontaneous or planned out: rage, hate, jubilation, confusion, regret. This film isn’t that, though; this doesn’t have that depth or complexity; this is little more than an updated blaxploitation movie.

Essentially, The Purge meets Superfly/Shaft/The Black Fist. DeMonaco as scripter essentially sets up Mac Daddy as some kind of semi-superhuman butt kicker who, two-thirds of the way through the film, pulls a pseudo-John McClane, strips down to a wife-beater, and halls a full automatic machine gun, along with a duffel bag of ammo, into a ghetto tower under siege by about twenty government sanctioned mercenaries. The mercenaries were sent in because there just wasn’t enough killing going on, so it needed to be triggered. These mercenaries are swathed in vaguely Nazi-ish clothing and are all lily white, as is virtually everyone in government. Dimitri proceeds to take out at least ten of these military-trained mercenaries in expert fashion and by himself in order to protect “his people”. Really? Up until the purge started, he was terrorising this same area with his drug dealing and street-thug henchmen.

Apparently DeMonaco’s message is nobody’s allowed to terrorise and kill Dimitri’s people except Dimitri. Okay, it’s blaxploitation, so that kind of thing is expected. Unfortunately, the ball began its roll in this direction with the introduction of Frank Grillo’s Leo Barnes character in The Purge: Anarchy. A moderately interesting twist that should have been a blip then left behind, but wasn’t. Still, in that film and its sequel, Leo Barnes is a trained Los Angeles police sergeant, someone with actual combat training skills, and the situations in that film have yet to lose their complexity and emotional perspicacity; Dimitri, on the other hand, actually has trouble dispatching a couple of sneak attack, hundred pound, good-time girls just as the purge is starting. This is the guy who’s able to single-handedly kill a group of hard-core, global mercenaries later on? Not likely.

Further, while the racial and economic issues were recognised in the previous films, the complexity and commonality of the emotions were forefront. What’s disappointing in The First Purge is how the movie moves drastically away from the balanced observing of grotesque universal human behaviour found in the rest of the series and into a mindless black vs white antagonistic dialectic. Forcefully insinuated through the early start of the purge, the premise pushed is, if white people would just leave black people alone, average black people won’t kill each other because they’re not prone to rage and violence like white people.

DeMonaco presumably wrote this movie from a position of white guilt; it’s patronising to black people, and it’s ultimately disappointing from an integrity point of view when compared with the other films. Original blaxploitation may have patronised black people, but it was predominantly about making a buck; there was rarely anything deeper than that going on. Other than the typical blaxploitation message of “kill whitey”, there’s not much else happening here, either. If the other films in The Purge series didn’t exist, this one would be a fine slice of retro Grindhouse violence; but when considering those other films, it’s a definite step down.

Ben Spurling, HORRORPEDIA

Other reviews:

” …feels like a culmination of its consistently undercooked social commentary, as low-income people of color are used as test subjects, and eventually, literal cannon fodder for Trump supporters’ wildest racist fantasies in a thriller that somehow serves as an equal-opportunity offender without managing to entertain anyone.” Todd Gilchrist, Bloody Disgusting

The First Purge is arguably the weakest entry in the Purge canon, but it’s still a fun action-horror romp that works best when it deepens the mythology of this horrific world. For the most part, the series has moved away from its slasher roots, but its continued examination of human psychology (blunt and overt as that examination may be) continues to feel interesting and fresh.” Cinema Blend

“It’s unpleasant and deliberately so, a visceral assault that drives home a message of indignation at how black lives are treated. There are also more direct nods to Trump with a jab about Russian meddling and one character attacking a potential rapist calling him a “pussy-grabbing motherf*cker” (the film’s marketing has also been Trump-baiting in the extreme). But all this anger is delivered in a questionable package, surrounded by conflicted messaging.” Benjamin Lee, The Guardian

“Gerard McMurray’s style is more downbeat and action-orientated than James DeMonaco’s and some of the scenes of empty streets just before the purge is due to start evoke a pleasing John Carpenter vibe (and composer Kevin Lax gives us some nice synth lines to go along with it) […] feels more political, and far more no-nonsense, in its attempt to get its message across.” John Llewellyn Probert, House of Mortal Cinema

“The previous Purge movies showed the potential of a good idea in search of a proper vessel; now, five years and three movies later, it’s finally found some measure of purpose. The First Purge is another absurd B-movie, uneven and ludicrous across the board, but altogether transfixing for the way it funnels Trump-era terror into an empowering crowdpleaser.” Eric Kohn, IndieWire

“Once the mercenaries start tooling around wearing actual Ku Klux Klan outfits, the pretenses to allegory have gone out the window. And yes, it is salutary to see guys with pointy hoods getting blown away by righteous African-American avengers. But the cinematic cost of getting there was not, for this viewer, worth it.” Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com

” …The First Purge, for much of its 97-minute running time, is the most slovenly and joyless of the four Purge films […] Yet if it takes too long to get there, the movie does finally build to something kicky, starting around the time that government-sanctioned purgers show up in Ku Klux Klan hoods” Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“We more or less know where this is going. And some of its dialogue (particularly, for no clear reason, the lines Tomei is obliged to deliver) is eye-rollingly bad. There’s no reason it had to be that way, and it drags the film down distractingly. But that isn’t to say The First Purge isn’t effective; it undeniably succeeds in making you feel bad, which is exactly what it’s after. It’s loud and violent and creepy and queasy.” Alissa Wilkinson, Vox

Release:

The First Purge was released on July 4, 2018 by Universal Pictures.

Production:

Principal photography began in mid-September, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. Shooting wrapped on November 8th, 2017.

All images are copyright © 2018 Universal Pictures and are reproduced here purely for informational, educational and promotional purposes. No copyright infringement is intended and the images remain the property of Universal Pictures.

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