The First Purge Review
You may recall the marketing for The First Purge prominently featured a red MAGA hat in a not-too-subtle attempt to align the franchise with the current Trump Presidency. It should come as no surprise then that the creator of The Purge, James DeMonaco, uses racial fears present in American society today as the base for the fourth instalment which is released on American Independence Day, with Gerard McMurray taking over the reigns as director.
These series of films have never once made the most of a fascinating idea, where upon it asks us to peer through the looking glass into a dystopian society uncomfortably close to our own, with race and class determining which side of the Purge you will be on once the siren sounds. The First Purge acts as an origins story of sorts, dialling things back to the initial localised experiment which took place before being rolled out across the country.
The action is set on Staten Island, New York, with the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) in government after filling the vacuum created by Democrat and Republican incompetence. It’s no coincidence that the community chosen for this test is largely made up of low income black and Latino people, with each participant enticed by the promise of at least $5,000 for taking part.
Dr. Updale (Marisa Tomei) is the psychologist responsible for conceiving the idea, with the NFFA eager to put it into action as a potential form of population control. The economy is in the toilet, social divide is wider than ever, and the government in desperate need of quick solutions. With the experiment due to get underway we meet fiery local activist Nya (Lex Scott Davis), wide-eyed younger brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade) and drug kingpin-with-a-heart, Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), who remain the focus of the story once the violence begins.
DeMonaco builds on the racial divide seen in The Purge: Election Year to place it front and centre, with the white devils in suits running the show and people of colour in threat of extermination as a race war beckons. As with every Purge film released up to this point, its social commentary is as blunt as a hammer and McMurray’s workmanlike direction revels in the usual pointless set-pieces that lack any hint of menace. If the story is intended as a bite-back against Trump, MAGA and the far-right in general, you can imagine those groups won’t be complaining about how stylistically cool they are made to appear as Klansman and mercenaries dressed in Nazi SS uniforms roam the streets, semi-automatics cocked at the ready.
The imbalance between the targets held up by The First Purge and the way they are gorily presented onscreen is nothing short of contradictory because DeMonaco wants to have his cake and eat it too. If he is seriously upset about the political changes in America over the past five years then revelling in a 100 minute popcorn movie full of empty carnage is hardly the best way to get his point across. The audience will take nothing away from the idea that white political leaders are crooked, and impoverished people of colour are those suffering the most – because many will probably already believe that before they've even sat down.
Even though this story takes place before the previous three films, there is nothing new about its approach and it remains happy to dish out more of the same. As an action film it has very little to offer beyond the obvious and its attempt at social commentary is about as subtle as a bullet to the head. Those who can’t get enough of the franchise have the chance to revel in more idiocy with the release of a Purge TV series in September, while others might be praying the end of the world really does happen before we are subjected to ten more hours of this garbage.