The First Purge is a prequel to The Purge franchise. Set in the near future where crime and debt are at an all-time high, a new political party known as the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) test a social experiment in Staten Island called the Purge where all crime is legal for twelve hours. Now I’ll admit that I haven’t seen the other Purge movies, so I wasn’t exactly excited for this new entry and I was right to not be because The First Purge is a rather forgettable action-horror movie that tries too hard to make a political statement about Trump’s America.
On a technical level, The First Purge is serviceable. Gerard McMurray fills the director chair for James DeMonaco, who remains on board as a writer and producer, and nothing about his direction is incredibly noteworthy. There is some creepy imagery and a well-directed action scene toward the end, but that’s it. Speaking of action, I noticed plenty of obvious CGI blood. There are also some loud jump scares that feel unnecessary and rely on the stock jump scare noise, which really need to go away. The editing is also flawed. As a scene is occurring, the movie fades black before cutting back to that same scene. The cinematography also changes frame rates for some reason.
The characters are not much better. Many of the main characters simply are not that interesting even when the movie desperately wants us to care for them. They also make some stupid decisions, such as standing in plain sight instead of hiding for cover. Marisa Tomei, the most recognizable name in the cast, is unfortunately wasted as the psychologist who theorized the Purge for the NFFA and mostly stands in an office watching the carnage unfold on monitors. The one interesting character in the movie is its protagonist Dmitri, played by Y’Lan Noel. He is a drug lord who tries to lay low during the Purge, so that adds some layers to his character and Noel brings a great on-screen presence to the movie.
The screenplay of The First Purge is where it suffers the most. It tries way too hard to be culturally relevant and, unlike Blumhouse’s other political horror film Get Out, is not subtle at all. For example, there’s a scene where a man is trying to grab a woman’s crotch; after she escapes, the woman yells “Pussy grabbing motherfucker” as she runs away. Why deflate the tension for the sake of an obvious Trump joke? The movie also takes way too long to kick into gear with a jump scare often thrown in here and there. It’s not until the last act where I was most invested. Thankfully, the movie is only 97 minutes.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
The First Purge is not a bad movie, but it is not one that I would recommend. Aside from a great lead and some fun thrills, the movie is not all that interesting and feels way too ham-fisted for its own good. Maybe fans of the franchise will enjoy it, but I’d rather not seek out the other movies.