The First Purge Review

The First Purge

The Purge movies always had great potential for exploring societal ills and human behaviour.

However any subtlety was often lost in a mist of grotesque imagery and wanton bloodletting.

The latest instalment does not buck the trend.

The First Purge opens with a depiction of a divided America. Protests against inequality are widespread and there are frequent, often violent, clashes between the left and the right wing.

Against this simmering background, an unlikely political leader emerges with radical ideas and a promise that America will be great again. Sorry, I mean: America will dream again.

Pretty far-fetched, right?

In this case, the reigning party is the recently-formed New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA), led by President Bracken.

Fans of the franchise will doubtlessly be familiar with the NFFA. Under the guise of scientific research, the party proposes a social experiment whereby all crime is to be legalised for 12 hours. The rationale is that one night of vented aggression may have a knock-on effect on reduced crime levels.

Enlisted as an independent advisor, Doctor May Updale (Marisa Tomei) endorses the experiment on purely scientific grounds.

The test site is chosen as Staten Island and residents are given the option to stay or leave for the duration of the experiment.

Those who stay will receive financial compensation, with further compensation to be gained should they choose to ‘participate’.

Many cash-strapped locals feel they have little choice but to sign up, despite protests from Island resident Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and vague disapproval from top gangster Dimitri (Y’Lan Noel), who also happens to be Nya’s ex.

She sees the experiment as having a harmful effect on the community; he just sees it as bad for business.

The first purge commences nonetheless, and, with initial results not being as expected, the NFFA decide to up the stakes…

Gerard McMurray takes the directorial reigns from James DeMonaco, on writing and producing duties here, and generates mixed performances from a relatively unknown cast. Both he and DeMonaco are tasked with adding something new here.

As the Purge trilogy progressed, the films widened in scope. The first was about a family trying to defend their home. The second followed a group of people stranded in the city, trying to survive the night. The third film took on a political overtone, with the focus on the pro versus anti Purge factions.

One thing remains common between all films: subtext is generally eschewed for Halloween masks and jump scares.

The fourth film doesn’t add much new to the moral debates around a purge-type concept; rather, it bludgeons home some of the points raised in the previous entries.

It must be said that the film does address one often criticised point; surely not everyone will turn into a deranged psychopath at the prospect of no consequences?

As this is the first purge, we therefore see people attack ATM’s, have sex in public and throw street parties. Which is weirdly refreshing when compared to the violence which ensues. And boy, does it ensue.

The key hypocrisy which haunted its predecessors however remains here: this is a film which markets itself on violent content, whilst trying to deliver a message which is inherently anti-violence.

Fans of the existing franchise won’t mind, and it certainly provides more of the same freakiness and frights that we’ve come to expect from the previous movies. Perhaps the upcoming TV show will give a bit more time and space for issues to be explored.

Conor Brennan

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Dates ‘n stuff

July 2018