The First Purge Review
One movie I was not keen to see this weekend was The First Purge – the fourth and hopefully last movie in The Purge franchise. Well, I did go and see it and due to my low expectations I was not disappointed. It is by no means a good movie, but it is not bad either.
The First Purge acts as a prequel to the franchise. The movie is about the first limited purge organized on Staten Island. A wink and nod to Escape from New York. As previous Purge movies have already explained – the United States is run by a party of ultra right-winged populists called New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA). They have ostensibly organized a purge as a social catharsis. All of the characters in the movie believe that – if they agree to purge or not.
Until it is revealed the NFFA incite homicide of the poorer classes using mercenaries throughout the 12 hour period of purge. So that is basically what the movie is all about. Its ripe with gory deaths, sadistically looking masks, rehashed horror tropes and biting social commentary. The backstory is thin, but it gets the job done and it offers plenty of references to the presidency of Donald Trump.
Throughout the 97-minute movie we follow 3 characters: Nya and her brother Isaiah as well as Nya’s former boyfriend turned gangster Dmitri. Nya is civic minded and tries to stop people from purging. Either by asking them to leave Staten Island or not go out on the streets. Her brother Isaiah is more conflicted. Reeling form poverty he has recently started dealing drugs, but after being humiliated by a notoriously violent drug user, Skeletor, he stays to purge. The third and most important character is Dmitri, as head of the gang he runs a tight ship. As much as people hate him for dealing drugs they appear to respect how organized he is. However, Nya wants as little to do with him as possible. Meanwhile Dmitri is being challenged from within the gang.
As soon as the purge starts so do the problems for Dmitri. After dealing with the internal dissent in true purge fashion he is quickly confronted by the fact that the NFFA has sent mercenaries to Staten Island to encourage the wholesale purging of the poor black inhabitants. Nya does her best to help her friends, but she can do little when heavily armed mercenaries dressed as KKK and other white-supremacist groups start murdering. Meanwhile the pursuit of Isaiah of Skeletor is utter frustration to watch.
Isaiah is not the cleverest person and it is cringe-worthy to watch how he fails to pull the to trigger when he can or when he fails to push the knife through later on. Instead, the story is about the redemption of Dmitri. His desire to abandon his drug-dealing world and instead use the power of his gang to save as many people form the purge as possible.
Dmitri strikes back
I enjoyed how the movie showed his gang being organized and move in tactical grace. It is not often the ‘good guys’ perform better than the ‘bad guys’, but at the end of the movie it felt as if the writers has written themselves into a corner. The wholesale slaughter of his gangs at the hands of NFFA drones felt like a cheat. Although some compatriots survive for another sequel. Instead in scenes in which I felt utter joy we see how Dmitri goes full Bruce Willis / Arnold Schwarzenegger. He takes out the purging mercenaries threatening the lives of Nya, Isaiah and her friends. Their survival means the start of an anti-purge resistance we see in the other movies. Oohn and Nya and Dmitri rekindle their romance, but that was written in the stars.
That is basically The First Purge in a nutshell. Though the character development is okay, and the many gory deaths are as well the movie is hampered by many cheesy aspects. Isaiah and Skeletor are very non-positive representations of black people – the latter almost racist in undertones. The scenes in which the NFFA try to escalate the purge are predictable and goofy. The cinematography ranges from mildly impressive to stuff I could record on my smartphone. But considering the relatively low-budget you get as much as can be expected. Beforehand I was unfamiliar with any of the leads, except for Patch Darragh. Yet, I hope to see Y’lan Noel (Dmitri) and Lex Scott Davis (Nye) again.
The threshold for success of The First Purge is arguably low, it just didn’t need to suck. It doesn’t, it has its moments, but the result is borderline.