If I’m being completely honest, The First Purge was a much better movie than it deserved to be. And what I mean by that is: being the fourth installment of a low budget thriller series, there’s an expectation that these movies will decline in quality the further they go on and basically be an unwatchable mess. But to every movie-goers surprise, this hasn’t happened with the Purge saga.
The original Purge movie, starring Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, and was a sleeper a hit that snuck up on all of us when it premiered back in 2013. And maybe because the subject matter was something each of us could understand, and worse, possibly see happening someday.
“One day a year, citizens of the United States get 12 hours to commit any crime of their choosing without the consequence of prison time…”
The concept is simple. One day a year, citizens of the United States get 12 hours to commit any crime of their choosing without the consequence of prison time, or worse. How this “officially” came to be was the government spinning it as a way of cutting down on crime throughout the rest of the year. But, though we know the rules, and have seen the outcome of the Purge, we’ve never had the chance to see how it came to pass in the first place… until now.
The First Purge takes us back to the beginning, and why it “really” came to be. And the answer is more frightening than the actual gore and violent death scenes. The very first Purge is conducted on Staten Island, specifically in the inner city, and is referred to by those in the media (in particular, in a cameo by CNN’s Van Jones) and officials in charge as “the experiment.” Led by government scientist, Dr. Updale (Marisa Tomei), and the president’s Chief of Staff, Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh).
We see right in the beginning agents of the government interviewing people in the neighborhood, and offering them thousands of dollars to participate in the purge. Giving them cybernetic contact lenses that will allow those running the experiment to see everything that’s happening in the streets.
“…besides trying to survive the night, the neighborhood has a bigger problem.”
One of those people, a psychopath in the neighborhood who goes by the name, “Skeletor” (Rotimi Paul), is especially excited to get blood on his hands. So much so, he can’t wait and randomly decides to cut a young, local drug dealer by the name of Isaiah (Jovian Wade) with a razor blade he had hidden under his tongue.
On the flipside of this, we also see people protesting this experiment, calling it a “cleansing of the poor.” The leader (or spokesperson) for this movement, Nya (Lex Scott Davis) happens to also be the sister of Isaiah and is angered to find that not only was her brother lying about being hurt, he’s been lying about who he works for, the local drug kingpin, Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), who Nya also appears to have a connection to.
When the Purge begins, most people in the city are hiding either in their homes, or gathered together in churches. Those who are actually participating in it, seem to be only committing acts of theft or vandalism… that is until Skeletor makes the first kill of the night. From there, everything starts to escalate and become more dangerous as those who watched the news to view the first kill decide they can take it further too.
“…it makes you wonder just how close we are to this actually happening.”
Things get complicated when Isaiah decides not to stay indoors, and instead goes hunting for Skeletor for revenge. And when Nya finds out about her brother’s plan, she leaves the church where she was hiding out to go save him.
But besides trying to survive the night, the neighborhood has a bigger problem. The Chief of Staff isn’t happy about the relatively low number of kills being reported. That kill number needs to be higher for the experiment to be a considered a success. So without consulting Dr. Updale, he sends in mercenaries to raise the body count, but not before revealing why the Purge was really initiated.
The only thing at this point between the regular citizens and these hired killers are… Dmitri and his crew! I’ll stop here because I don’t want to give too much of the film away (I probably already did, but I think I left out some decent surprises).
What made this movie truly frightening is how real the events leading up to the Purge feel to what we are experiencing now. Much like the Hulu show, The Handmaid’s Tale, we see a disturbing resemblance to our own reality. And it makes you wonder with our current administration, just how close we are to this actually happening. Every big event starts with small compromises right?
“The only thing between the regular citizens and these hired killers are… Dmitri and his crew!”
Also, I especially have to give a nod to Y’lan Noel! His arch as Dmitri was amazing to watch. I’ve personally never seen this actor in anything else but judging by what I saw here, if this guy doesn’t become the next action star, I would be extremely surprised (and disappointed). He literally carried this movie. And stole every scene he was in. He has a presence that most actors would kill for.
My only complaints with The First Purge? There were times in watching the film where it felt that scenes were left out, or at least, should have been more. Specifically when it came to Marisa Tomei’s scenes. Also, there’s a point in the film where when the Chief of Staff reveals his “dastardly” plan which felt a little cartoonish and cliche.
Those small problems aside, I’m shocked how well The First Purge held up. Having only seen the original Purge and none of the sequels, my expectation going into this were as low as they could possibly be. But to my surprise, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.
As far as “summer movies” go, this one is a ride that’s worth taking, and will not leave you disappointed! It’s fun, and it’ll make you think, so what more can you really ask for?
The First Purge (2018) Directed by Gerard McMurray. Written by James DeMonaco. Starring Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Jovian Wade, Marisa Tomei, Patch Darragh, and Rotimi Paul.
7 out of 10