Cast: Y’Lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Mugga
Director: Gerard McMurray
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Behind every tradition lies a revolution. Next 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. To push the crime rate below one percent for the rest of the year, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) test a sociological theory that vents aggression for one night in one isolated community. But when the violence of oppressors meets the rage of the marginalized, the contagion will explode from the trial-city borders and spread across the nation.
With the fourth installment of The Purge series, The First Purge answers one of the main questions that fans have been asking for years. That question is how did all of this violence begin? The First Purge takes an in-depth look at how societies allow this type of violence as well as how governments can manipulate their citizens to believe that this violence is working. While the first two acts do a pretty solid job of proving these points and showing us a rather natural response to an event like this, shoddy cinematography and a sloppy third act derail a movie that once again, has a very interesting premise.
The film follows multiple characters on Staten Island before and during an experiment where all crime will be legalized for 12 hours. These characters include Nya (Davis), an activist against the purge who advises people to resist the temptations of the experiment, her brother Isaiah (Wade), a teenager who is starting to realize that the street life is the only way for him to escape his current state of poverty, and Dimitri (Noel), a local drug kingpin who controls much of the crime within the neighborhood. As the purge commences, the three must face the consequences of their decisions during the purge as well as the decisions from the government to intervene whenever they feel it is necessary. One of the things that stands out is that the first act and most of the second act feel natural and real. Most people do not start killing immediately and most of them are either looting or partying, which is what I would expect if this were to ever actually happen. The only thing I could not get over was the antagonist in the first half; Skeletor (Rotimi Paul). The Purge franchise is known for having some pretty outlandish and goofy villains, but this guy is in a league of his own. His exposition and actions during the purge are only there to move the plot along and even his original conflict with Isaiah seemed very superficial and cheesy. The one shining star of the movie though was Noel, as after this performance, I truly believe he has the potential to go the distance in major films. Noel provides a good balance of a hustler who uses the purge to his advantage, but also someone who recognizes the problems with the purge and will do anything to protect his loved ones and neighborhood. The film takes an absolute nosedive though in the second half as it looks Michael Bay and Blumhouse, two of the major reasons why this film exists, had a baby that became this movie. Dimitri goes from just a regular guy who handles his street business to someone who can magically take down highly trained operatives from around the world. I understand that Dimitri is determined to save his neighborhood, but what separates his skills from all of his neighbors who died during the purge? These action sequences are topped with vomit-inducing shaky-cam and blood splatters that laughably look like a high school student’s intro to YouTube project, so it really embraces all of the comically bad elements of Blumhouse and Bay films. After all that, the political satire is way too on-the-nose for a movie as nonsensical as this. The film makes it abundantly clear that the modern Republican party and Trump are responsible for the purge and makes no attempt to hide their disdain for them. Traditionally, I love political satire, especially if it is done well, but this is a movie with an antagonist named Skeletor. People did not come here to listen about how one party is better or worse than the other, they came here to watch crazy people kill one another. It is tough to sell this idea to an audience that is not anticipating it, and while I give the movie credit for trying something different, it does not work out this time.
Overall, The First Purge is a generally middle-of-the-road movie, both within The Purge franchise and among violent action/horror movies in general. Some better-than-average acting from the leads and supporting characters take The First Purge and turn an otherwise forgettable movie into something that is at least enjoyable enough to stream. When the inevitable fifth Purge movie comes out sometime in the future, I hope they can fix the general technical and story issues, because the premise of this series is incredibly interesting and could be very well done with a little bit more care.
Overall Score: 5/10