**SPOILER WARNING: Please note that this review contains the discussion of elements from The Purge franchise**
The party of carnage commences in the USA as the latest elected government, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) instil a new legislation which is set to lower crime rates and the population, in The First Purge, the recent instalment in one of this decade’s most successful horror franchises.
The First Purge is the latest horror blockbuster from the Universal Pictures and Blumhouse team-up that is currently dividing cinema goers. This fourth instalment is in fact a prequel rather than a follow up to the previous films and is the first not to be directed by creator James DeMonaco. He did however pen the screenplay ensuring that this latest edition remains in line with its predecessors.
For those who are unfamiliar with the popular franchise, The Purge is set in a dystopian future which sees the legalisation of all crime, including murder for one night a year. This alarming prospect is an extension of our own reality and mirrors the idiocracy of the current American political climate. It presents the question about our own subdued violent instincts and how far would we go if this situation was inflicted upon us. Would we merrily purge along or hide in fear?
The original film, released in 2013 played out as a home invasion shrouded in outside societal conflict as a technology-savvy family man goes to great lengths to protect his loved ones. On that fateful night, events fail to go to plan, proving that no one is immune to the organised anarchy. Fans eagerly called out for a sequel that would dig deeper into the overall concept. We had viewed The Purge from the inside, but what about the outside? The third instalment centred itself on a political figure as the core target, proving that the longer the unethical law goes on, the more the ante is increased, resulting in uncontrollable order within society.
Election Year concluded with the chaotic uprising of NFFA followers in response to the triumphant election results. Leaving the events of the third instalment slightly opened-ended, surely garners more scope for future developments and new directions for the franchise? Instead, DeMonaco opted for an origin story for his fourth purge outing, depicting The Purge in its experimental stages and how it brought in an immoral governmental system to America.
To a degree, the concept of a backstory is slightly unwarranted considering that the verse’ has been fully established across three films all incorporating refreshing takes each time. But is it worthy of the critic slamming it has so far received? The answer is, no.
What The First Purge successfully achieves is it portrays the unadulterated ruthlessness of the NFFA and how it inflicted its socio-economic experiment on the impoverished citizens of Staten Island. The treatment of the African American society is beyond appalling, demoralising and without a doubt cuts close to the bone. We may have come a long way since slavery and the Civil Rights movement of the 20th Century, however the
film reiterates that racism still exists and when given a licence for violence the lowest common denominator will enact out their sickest desires as consequences are superfluous.
In no time, the characters find themselves in way over their heads when the lure of money becomes a seductive prospect rather than challenging the unrest that the experiment will cause. With the government using the less affluent demographic as their test subject, it proves to be without a doubt the highest form of human exploitation known to man.
As an origin story, The First Purge does raise some interesting plot points. Psychologist and originator of the experiment, Dr. Updale (Marisa Tomei) questions the reason why the ‘purgers’ choose to wear masks when committing violence. Are they truly ashamed of their actions, therefore concealing their identity or is it simply to bring a sense of uncanniness to the table, separating themselves from their own humanity and transforming into violent monsters, because they can? The inclusion of the masks does happen organically, to begin with a large portion of the community use the event to host a party which sees those who appear innocent donning an array of strange disguises before all hell breaks loose.
Another thought-provoking theory the film encompasses, is the notion that The Purge is simply a psychological experiment rather than a political one. It does thereafter transpire that the monster Dr. Updale and the NFFA have created is far bigger that they could have ever imagined.
The performances are solid, in particular the leading characters, redeemable drug lord Dmitri (Y’lan Noel) and strong-willed heroine, Nya (Lex Scott Davis). Marisa Tomei delivers an interesting performance as the in over her head psychologist and Patch Darragh plays the suit clad, villainous politician convincingly. The character of Skeletor played by Rotimi Paul comes across as unintentionally campy instead of threatening or menacing, with the crazed part playing out extremely predictably.
Tonally, the film is consistent with its gritty, urban setting and lust for increasing violence. The violence itself builds at just the right pace however feels prolonged by the time the climax rolls around.
There are no startling revelations, with nothing majorly noteworthy occurring however The First Purge is a credible entry into the franchise albeit not the best.
While not outwardly depicting Trump, DeMonaco does bring in a tongue in cheek reference to the buffoon president’s most infamous, sexist quote which does generate a knowing reaction from the audience. The film does contain some welcome twists and fast paced action. As long as the franchise remains profitable and stands as a twisted hypothetical outlet for our own inner fears, there is potential for more. It will be intriguing to see which trajectory this survival horror series will take next.