‘The First Purge’ Is Timely, But Offers Nothing New

by Ben Martin

When The Purge was released in the Summer of 2013, the film offered a refreshing new concept for the horror genre. An annual American holiday dubbed, “The Purge” takes place over the course of 12 hours. During that time, all crime is legal. Furthermore, law enforcement and emergency services will be unavailable. In the end, I found The Purge to be a solidly entertaining home invasion flick. However, one thing was quite clear; much could be explored through the concept of a Purge.

Thus, it’s no surprise that after the picture was such a hit, that the creator, writer, and director of The Purge, James DeMonaco (of the upcoming Once Upon a Time in Staten Island) did just that with the sequels. The Purge: Anarchy (2014) dropped a mere year after its predecessor and would cement what The Purge franchise would become. Anarchy showed the audience the outside world during The Annual Purge. In doing so, the sequel became an action-horror hybrid movie. Then there was the appropriately-timed The Purge: Election Year (2016). In this third entry, more of the same was done while commenting on The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.
During the intervening years, America has, unfortunately, become a much different place. Currently, this country is under a president and administration who wield their power with incredible irresponsibility. So much so in fact, that I’m sure seeing it all unfold would have killed Uncle Ben before that mugger could. Even worse yet, it feels as if a real-life American Purge could be given the governmental green light any day now. With all that in mind, it’s no surprise that another installment in The Purge franchise just hit theaters.
The First Purge is a prequel that takes us back to the beginning. Referred to as “The Experiment,” all crime will be legal for twelve hours, exclusively on Staten Island. Residents who stay on the island during what will become The Purge will receive five-thousand dollars. Should residents choose to participate, they receive additional compensation. The story focuses explicitly on two sets of characters. The residents of a housing project: Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and her younger brother, Isaiah (Jovian Wade), and their neighbors. Then there’s the neighborhood drug dealer, Dimitri (Y’Ian Noel). Together, they must all try to survive The First Purge!

Frankly, this film does not have too much going for it; so I’ll begin with what I liked about it. Firstly, the entire cast here delivers fine performances. Such solid performances are achieved even though no cast member is given much of a character with which to work. To the contrary, these characters are more stereotypes that we’ve seen numerous times more than anything else. So much so in fact that if the B-movie that is The First Purge had been released in the 70s; it would no doubt be a Blaxploitation film. In particular, Lex Scott Davis once again lights up the silver screen just as she did in last month’s SuperFly (2018).

Aside from the cast, this picture’s director, Gerard McMurray (Burning Sands) also brings his A-game to this B-movie. The First Purge represents the first entry in this franchise not to be directed by James DeMonaco; who remains as screenwriter on this film. Thankfully, under McMurray’s helm, The First Purge  has a violent and kinetic energy. It’s evident that McMurray knows how to handle suspense and action. In fact, the third channels action in the vein of Die Hard (1988) and The Raid: Redemption (2011) with grace and style. Sadly, for all his talent, the director is not any favors by this script.

The First Purge is DeMonaco’s fourth take on the concept he created and boy, can you tell. This film plays out like a crossover between The Purge and an inferior version of The Wire (2002-2008). Unlike the previous installments, I feel that both the horror and violence in this prequel are underplayed. Now, it should be said that this film does have a couple of good sequences and one interesting idea. Alas, those new origin elements aren’t enough to save this movie from largely being a bore.
While The First Purge seems timely, it offers nothing new. That same old, same old includes the picture’s socio-political commentary. It seems to me that with all the horrible things The U.S. is currently facing; all of those issues, particularly the harm of racism, could be commented upon. Unfortunately, though, the commentary presented in The First Purge is repetitive; just as with everything else here. Said commentary is once again, the US government wants to eliminate its poor and minorities. Now, while I agree that this is a real issue on which to comment; I feel these films have said all they can about the government’s economically-driven elimination of citizens. Therefore, I think this film’s need to find something new to say; be it about this issue or oh, I don’t know, other ones as well!
For me, The First Purge was a B-movie bore. To the film’s credit, it attempts to be like the best exploitation films of yesteryear. Meaning, it tries to have substance and commentary in the mayhem of all the violence. Alas, as I said, it fails in that respect. Everything offered up in this prequel is simply not enough. Unfortunately, though, the property shows no sign of slowing with a Purge limited series premiering in September on USA Network. No matter how the upcoming TV show plays out, I would not recommend purging your pockets for this picture!


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