“The First Purge” (2018)
Running Time: 97 minutes
Written by: James DeMonaco
Directed by: Gerard McMurray
Featuring: Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Mugga, Luna Lauren Velez, Kristen Solis, and Marisa Tomei
The Architect – Dr. Updale: “Please don’t tell me your sending mercenaries into the island disguised as purgers?”
This week sees the arrival of the fourth movie in the ‘Purge’ franchise, the confusedly titled “The First Purge” (2018), on DVD and Blu-ray, it actually defies belief that there is even a franchise based around this high concept idea from Blumhouse Studios. I believe, and I also can’t help but think that everyone involved with the original movie was going to be one and done. But leave it to Blumhouse to not only market the original to some success both in the US as well as internationally, but to tap into something during the Obama administration that would, to a certain point, reflect what was to come with the Trump administration as well as to actually infect society with the term ‘purge’ to such an extent that it is now a pop culture reference. In fact 2018 could be seen as the year of the ‘Purge’ as the rights of people around the world are being restricted, many hard right parties are either coming to power or gaining power not forgetting that on the small screen there is a new television series “The Purge” (2018-) that is exploring one night over several plot-lines of the purge where we see how it has infiltrated different segments of society and how people are either embracing it or fighting back. That brings us to the latest cinematic instalment which acts as a prequel exploring the very first purge night, with all that entails, of course this one centres on the most vulnerable in society as well as a ‘test case’ if you will for what has unfolded in the previous movies.
Unlike the previous two instalments that carried a small arc as well as a main character in Frank Grillo’s ‘Sarge’ this new movie is much like the first one in that it is stand alone and offers more of an insight into the origins of ‘purge night’, which is not only a good way to reset the franchise but to also measure if audiences are still interested in this run of movies, judging from the global box office of US$135 million people are not ready to give it up, this is the biggest grossing film so far, internationally. So is this worth a watch or not? In fact it is just as good as the others which is about as you would expect, in fact this is the first part of a shared Universe as this night is referenced in the new television show, so I am assuming we can expect more of both to come in the future.
“The First Purge” has been written by original creator as well as director of the first three movies, James DeMonaco who knows his subject, writing to its strengths while still attempting to maintain some political commentary as well as keeping the narrative intact so that as a whole the franchise makes sense to those watching. There are of course elements of the franchise that have been borrowed from elsewhere with paranoia playing a big part as does Frank Miller’s graphic novel series “Give me Liberty” with the masses paying the price so that those in power can carry on while seemingly giving people the gift of some kind of freedom. New director Gerard McMurray gives the series a shot in the arm, he also lends some authenticity as an African American who is giving a point of view that is very different from the white one we have had before which is in fact a relief. It can be disingenuous for white people to be writing and directing a movie that could be seen as the black experience, which this is and is welcome especially after the past few years with ‘Black Lives Matter’.
“The First Purge” takes place sometime in the mid-21st century, turmoil has caused the government to be overthrown by the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA). NFFA members Arlo Sabian and Dr. May Updale announce an experiment to take place on Staten Island where for 12 hours, citizens will be allowed to purge and release their inhibitions in any way they choose. The NFFA offers residents of the Island $5000 to stay in their homes during the experiment and a compensation for those participating as well. They also outfit the participants with tracking devices and contact lenses with cameras in them so that they can monitor all activity. The actual narrative should be familiar to any viewers by now; survival is key as is the resistance that is formed by the characters that we are introduced to.
This movie like the previous three has been cast with some relatively unknown actors as well as a few experienced ones to keep the budget low as well as giving audience members a familiarity factor so that they have something to hang on to. What is great is that all the new actors are individualistic and unique so that even though we have been through this night before it is fresh for them in almost every way, which works well, the director has to receive kudos for casting the right people for the correct roles. Another thing this movie is wise about is the physicality of the actor’s where some are lean and fit who are obviously able to take care of himself or herself, the newcomers to action look out of place which is in keeping with how they would be on the first purge night. We also begin to see how some of the ‘purgers’ start to really enjoy themselves as well as donning other personas to make them apart from the atrocities they will commit.
Speaking of the first night of the purge, the outcome is always going to be inevitable but the way in which the plot unrolls is interesting in that it paints a picture very quickly of the need for resistance as well as how that resistance takes place. “The First Purge” does illustrate a few things quite nicely in that it shows how easy it would be for a government to be dominated by a right wing ideologue as well as how the rich are always pitted against the poor especially those without a real voice or power. One could almost imagine this happening now in this day and age. Of course this is exactly what is occurring in many countries throughout the world, in Brazil, México, the US, Australia and so many more which is a sad indictment on the ability of the ‘resistance’ to mount a counter attack. We are often told of coups being sudden and violent but in fact they can be slow moving as well.
“The First Purge” is fiction, it should be treated that way as escapist fantasy of the ‘What if?’ kind, for that it is successful, as are the other three movies in the franchise. I actually enjoy these movies more for the motivations of the politicians than anything else, so I would recommend this as well especially if you enjoyed the others, and have or are going to watch the series. Remember the rich and powerful always cheat.
“The First Purge” is out now on DVD & Blu-ray.