The First Purge, 2018.
Directed by Gerard McMurray.
Starring Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Christian Robinson, Mugga, Patch Darragh, Luna Lauren Velez, Kristen Solis, Rotini Paul, Mo McRae, Jermel Howard, Siya, Steve Harris, Mitchell Edwards, D.K. Bowser, Derek Basco, Maria Rivera, Chyna Layne, Ian Blackman, Melonie Diaz, Naszir Nance, and Marisa Tomei.
After the rise of a third political party, the New Founding Fathers of America, an experiment is conducted, no laws for 12 hours on Staten Island. No one must stay during the experiment yet there is $5,000 for anyone who does.
Cinema acts as catharsis, amidst political turmoil it acts as respite; a dark room surrounded by strangers in itself is a form of therapy. And so to The First Purge, a broadly satirical – with a capital “S” – prequel to the surprisingly endearing Purge series. It builds on the grandiose lunacy of its predecessors whilst, like a kid dizzy in at a pick and mix station, picking and choosing genre favourites with a devil may care attitude.
America is in crisis. The democrats and republicans find themselves marooned as the rise of a new political party, the New Founding Fathers of America, who promise to “let you dream again”. With the stock market crashing and the housing market crashing, they conduct an experiment on Staten Island where for 12 hours there are no laws. With a cash incentive of $5000 for those that choose to stay home and further incentives for those that partake, it promises a better life.
It’s all deliciously overwrought. Any attempt at subtlety in its satire is frankly non-existent, but it only adds further hysteria. “The American dream is dead, let’s make you dream again,” is head bangingly on the nose, whilst the NFFA giddy support of white supremacists and the suppressing of the working class is – ahem – rather apt.
But director Gerard McMurray runs with it, and his central characters, for the most part, ground the film in a vague alternate reality. The world feels fully lived in.
Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and Isaiah (Joivan Wade) have a brother/sister relationship that genuinely convinces, whilst McMurray allows the community around them to have bold characters, reinforcing the “real world” feel of these people.
In fact, it would be a shame if The First Purge didn’t make stars of its cast. Lex Scott Davis is fantastic, as is Y’lan Noel’s Dmitri, a drug kingpin with a heart (who gets to flex his action superstar muscles in a late detour into Die Hard territory).
The film struggles when away from Staten Island. Marisa Tomei has the rather unforgiving role of looking shocked when her experiment results in actual murder whilst Patch Darragh’s chief of staff is a villain right out of an 80s action flick.
There’s a giddiness to The First Purge. Everything it tries to achieve is built on the over-wrought. Rotimi Paul’s Skeletor, a scarred psychopath with a hankering for a homicide is brilliantly silly. The late detour into Die Hard territory, right down to Dmitri’s vest, is a more accomplished Die Hard than any released in the last 20 years.
The Purge franchise is a peculiar beast. That first film now seems little more than an after-thought, who cares about the rich white folk when there are infinite other stories to be told? The First Purge builds on the Carpenter-lite universe and celebrates the chaos.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★