'The First Purge' Satisfies The Blood Lust, But Little Else

By James Jay Edwards
Released: July 4, 2018
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Behind every tradition lies a revolution. This Independence Day, witness the rise of our country's 12 hours of annual lawlessness. Welcome to the movement that began as a simple experiment: The First Purge.

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Film Review
Although they have been generally well received, the first three movies in the Purge series (The Purge, The Purge: Anarchy, and The Purge: Election Year) have been underwhelming to me personally. However, the concept of one lawless night is engaging enough to keep me coming back, because I know that someday, someway, they'll make a The Purge movie that I will love. Unfortunately, The First Purge is not that movie.

Just as the title suggests, The First Purge is the story of the initial night where law and order is temporarily suspended. For this experimental Purge, the concept is isolated to Staten Island (it's even called The Staten Island Experiment), and the New Founding Fathers of America convince people to participate by paying them to stay in the city, and offering bonuses for actually participating in the chaos. All of the action is monitored by the government through drone surveillance cameras, as well as through contact lens cameras that are given to participants.

The First Purge, courtesy Blumhouse Productions/Platinum Dunes/Universal Pictures.

Citizens react to the Purge in all of the usual ways. Some go out and relish in the violence. Others hunker down at home or in a church to wait out the night. Still others take matters into their own hands and defend their neighborhoods. Some even just use the opportunity to party like it's Armageddon. Most of the movie follows around a young woman named Nya (Superfly's Lex Scott Davis) as she tries to protect her friends while keeping her brother, Isaiah (Joivan Wade from "EastEnders"), out of trouble after he vowed revenge on a psycho named Skeletor (Mapplethorpe's Rotimi Paul). Nya's ex-boyfriend, a thug named Dmitri (Y'lan Noel from "Insecure") who happens to be the biggest drug dealer in town, takes to defending his turf from purgers and rivals. All of it happens under the watchful eye of NFFA Chief of Staff Arlo Sabian (The Visit's Patch Darragh) and Purge Architect Dr. Updale (Marisa Tomei from The Wrestler).

Although The First Purge was written by series creator James DeMonaco, the directorial duties this time around have fallen to Gerard McMurray (Burning Sands). Essentially, it's a combination of The Purge: Anarchy and The Purge: Election Night, with most of the action taking place outside in the thick of things. It's not nearly as interesting as those other two entries, however. Not visually nor story-wise. McMurray doesn't seem to have the same handle on the stylistic aspects of the franchise, and DeMonaco doesn't do him any favors with some of the sappier points of the setup and the insanely stupid decisions that most of the characters make. The only thing that The First Purge is good for is carnage. Thankfully, there's plenty of that.

The First Purge, courtesy Blumhouse Productions/Platinum Dunes/Universal Pictures.

At this point, the Purge franchise isn't even trying to be subtle about its politics. The Purge has always been heavy on the iconography and the misplaced 'Merican pride, but this movie is almost a parody of right wing attitudes towards both the disenfranchised poor and the protestors who speak out for them. It takes subtle digs at the left as well, but those seem to be just making fun of what conservatives think of liberals (one purger yells "I'm coming for my free shit!" as he robs a pawn shop). There's even a "pussy grabber" joke tossed in, just in case audiences aren't quite sure of where The First Purge is coming from. The First Purge should come with a trigger warning for snowflakes on both sides of the political spectrum.

The whole concept of The Purge is for normally law-abiding citizens to release their pent-up aggressions with a violent explosion on one night a year. The First Purge corrupts the concept by paying the residents of Staten Island to stay in the city and participate in the purge. Offering a financial gain to one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York manipulates the entire idea of The Purge. It adds another dimension to the concept, and the way the government uses money to manipulate the marginalized is the most horrifying aspect of the movie.

The First Purge, courtesy Blumhouse Productions/Platinum Dunes/Universal Pictures.

As far as The Purge movies go, The First Purge is the weakest of the bunch. But again, the concept is so strong, that fans will keep coming back, just in case the next one is "the one."
Action Sequences
The action sequences in The First Purge are ridiculous and over-the-top. And it's because of that fact that they're the coolest elements of the movie. Whether it's the Chuck Norris-ian roundhouse kicks or the Sylvester Stallone-esque firing of two machine guns at once (one in each hand), the fights in the movie almost make the whole thing worth it. There'e even a long-take staircase combat sequence between Dimitri and a few intruders that rivals the famous staircase sequence in Atomic Blonde. Okay, maybe "rivals" is the wrong word, but the scene is fun to watch. It may be a flawed movie in many narrative ways, but the action segments in The First Purge know how to get the audience's adrenaline pumping.

The First Purge, courtesy Blumhouse Productions/Platinum Dunes/Universal Pictures.
Scary Factor
While there are a handful of quick-and-dirty jump scares in the movie, most of the fear generated by The First Purge comes strictly from the carnage. The film lacks the grotesque imagery and the disturbing ideology of its predecessors, so it basically goes right for the jugular - literally. Blood flies and guts spill throughout the entire movie. The masked killers are too numerous and plentiful to really be mysterious and spooky, so the whole thing looks like a Halloween carnival...at least until the shooting and stabbing starts. The First Purge is more of an action flick than a horror movie, so the subtle terror is gone. It's all about the grossout.

The First Purge, courtesy Blumhouse Productions/Platinum Dunes/Universal Pictures.

Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
Release Date
July 4, 2018
MPAA Rating
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