Fiction meets reality? Not quite. But I think it’s probably fair to describe ‘The First Purge’ as a film that’s uncomfortably timely.
For a a franchise that has become an annual tradition for movie goers close to America’s Independence Day, the ‘Purge’ series is vicious enough to certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea, yet remains remarkably fresh for those who do brave it. Especially with this fourth installment, a prequel, as going back to the beginning…how all the anger, lies, chaos and impunity first unleashed by – surprise, surprise – the government…gains new traction in resonance. Use this picture as a companion piece with any recent newscast emerging from south of the border, and it’s goosebumps time.
If you’re not familiar with the ‘Purge’ films…..firstly, you’re probably sleeping a lot better than those who ARE…..but secondly, for context purposes, it’s a terrifying hypothetical exercise come to life; what would happen if all crime, including murder, was legal across an entire nation for 12 hours? And as we learn here, it all started in Staten Island.
Marisa Tomei plays Dr. Updale, the architect of the Purge experiement, thinking widespread catharsis could be a positive move for an overcrowded society drowning in unemployment and crime. With the hard-right wing party, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) assuming control of the White House, the decision is made to do a trial run of Tomei’s idea on Staten Island, and an evening of complete and utter anarchy is scheduled. The story then centers around Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), a drug dealer, but one with a conscience. His ex, Nya (Lex Scott Davis) is an anti-Purge demonstrator, planning to hunker down during the Purge at a local church and help keep watch over the peace-seeking locals. Unfortunately, her brother (Joivan Wade), desperate to give his sister a better life, takes advantage of the financial incentives offered by NFFA to anyone who wants to participate and willingly ‘purges’, setting the stage for a an evening of bumps n’ chills, including a blood-soaked tangle with a battle-scarred freak named Skeletor…..yes, just like He-Man’s nemesis….oh, and there are imported mercenaries too, did I mention that?
On the surface, ‘The First Purge’ is an extreme case of good versus evil – those willing to step up and defend their neighborhood against those who want to drag the world into a violent dystopia. Director Gerard McMurray keeps the gory stuff over-the-top enough that his film is reminiscent of the kind of guilty pleasure thrill rides that John Carpenter used to make. But underneath the surface is a message that does address the star spangled headlines and the anxiety and frustration that accompany them. This is a rare gruesome rampage that is a lot smarter than it appears.