How many Purge movies have we got already? I walked into the cinema a couple of days ago thinking I was about to catch the third one, only to realise after some quick Googling that it’s the fourth. Turns out Purge 3 (Or The Purge: Election Year) flew right over my head. I missed em posters, trailers and the whole God damn movie. That’s how much I care about The Purge mythology. Now we have the fourth Purge movie titled The First Purge because nothing screams “I’m a money hungry studio head trying to milk the shit out of a once intriguing horror concept” like a f*cking prequel. Woohoo!
I’ll be honest. I actually quite enjoyed the second one, Anarchy for what it is. There director James DeMonaco keeps things simple, by focusing less on the philosophical (though, there are undertones) and more on the ‘Holy shit! Mofos are out to hunt and kill’ survival aspect. And with the charismatic Frank Grillo in the lead, the movie is cool, fun and moves quickly. It’s the kinda action-thriller that I’ll rewatch if I stumble across it again on TV while channel surfing during dinner. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about The First Purge.
This time helmed by Gerard McMurray, The First Purge is the most ambitious of the lot. The premise is compelling. We jump back in time to witness the first ever Purge. As it turns out, Purge Night initially started out as a social experiment conceptualised by sociologist Dr Updale (Marisa Tomei), sanctioned and funded by the US Government. Its purpose? societal catharsis. This experiment — Staten Island will be lawless for 12 hours, allowing people to commit crimes including murder without repercussions — would ideally see America be reborn and appease unrest. Hypothesis: if you could release all your anger and frustrations in one night without consequences, you’ll remain docile for the rest of the year (I guess there are no gyms or Muay Thai classes in the Purge universe).
That the franchise decided to make it about the struggles of poverty-stricken brown and black Americans is brilliant. Why do they have to be the guinea pigs in experiments conducted by White America in monkey suits? A portion of the community on Staten Island protest. But many of the financially desperate folk sign up to be a part of the experiment — US$ 5000 is offered to anyone who agrees to remain on the island during the experiment; even more money is given if they decide to partake in the “festivities.” It’s awesome that apart from Marisa Tomei and the shady government officials, we get a cast consisting entirely of African Americans and Hispanics. It’s awesome-r, that the person tasked to direct this cast is also an African American.
It’s a damn shame then that all the politicking and philosophizing are thrown out the window after about 30 minutes as the film slowly devolves into your standard B action movie. In the setup, sentences like, “this experiment is more psychological than political,” is thrown around. But there’s no follow through. Once the killing begins, the deeper discourses are all but forgotten. Look, I’m not suggesting that the brutal shenanigans on Purge Night need to take a step back and allow sociopolitics to take centre stage. But for the shootings and killings and gut spillings to have meaning, we need to constantly feel like the members of the community are forced into a position that they ultimately do not want to be in. Every murder that happens needs to feel like an act of racism by smarmy politicians who believe they’re making America great again. But here, the sociopolitics is nothing but fluff used to fill time before we get back to our regularly scheduled programming — bloody action sequences.
Maybe I’m a fool for wanting The First Purge to be anything more than a B-movie. After all, even the best of this franchise isn’t anything to marvel at. But even as a just-for-fun action movie, it’s rather lacking. Besides one sequence — Skeletor at a party — the action set pieces aren’t anything to scream about. There are no thrills, no stakes. The film does just enough to keep you somewhat entertained but not enough to keep you engaged. The manner in which the action sequences are shot isn’t consistent either. At times its realistic, other times, it feels like a Zack Snyder imitation. And the climax feels like a less cool, less bonkers version of The Raid.
These action sequences lack weight. And it is so because there aren’t any interesting characters. We get it, they’re dark-skinned and poor, but those aren’t personality traits. Who are these people and why should we care about them on a personal level? The actors — Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Mugga, Rotimi Paul — all do a fine job. It’s the material they’re working with by Purge frequent writer James DeMonaco that’s a letdown.
I went into The First Purge with zero expectations and so I wasn’t disappointed. This movie isn’t hot garbage. It’s just one of those middle of the road mediocre movies that I will not be talking or thinking about anymore the moment I hit publish. I never cared about these movies and after watching The First Purge I still don’t care. But hey, the previous Purge movie grossed a ridiculous US$ 118 million worldwide with a US$ 10 million production budget. And I’m sure Purge 4: The First but Definitely Not the Last Purge will make craploads of money too.
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The First Purge
I never cared about these movies and after watching The First Purge I still don't care. But hey, the previous Purge movie grossed a ridiculous US$ 118 million worldwide with a US$ 10 million production budget. And I'm sure 'Purge 4: The First Purge but Definitely Not the Last Purge' will make craploads of money too.