Movie Review: “The First Purge” – All Purge, No Binge

Written by Jeremiah Greville July 16, 2018

The First Purge - Promotional Image

This is not a test.

This is your We Eat Films emergency review system announcing the commencement of the not-quite annual Purge movie review. Words of five syllables or lower have been authorized for use during the review. Also the words “poop” and “tubular, dude!” All others are restricted. Reviewers of rank 10 have been granted immunity from…poopy, non-tubular comments, and shall not be harmed. Commencing at the siren, any and all review opinion, including negative opinion, will be legal for the time it takes to read the whole dang thing. Blessed be our Purge movie review.

May God, or…whoever, be with you all.

The First Purge is the fourth movie in the Purge franchise from writer/producer James DeMonaco. While he also directed the first three films, he’s replaced this time by newbie Gerard McMurray. The First Purge stars Y’lan Noel as Dmitri and Lex Scott Davis as Nya, two people trapped on Staten Island during the night of — you guessed it! — the first experimental “purge”. Joivan Wade and Marisa Tomei also star in this prequel/sequel, but Noel and Davis are definitely the stars. The First Purge is a strange beast, turning down the violent insanity to crank the politics up to eleven. It’s the most pointed and socially relevant film in the series, but at the cost of what made the series so appealing in the first place.

“I’m worried about the country.”

Even though the Purge films have never killed it at the box office, they’ve nonetheless seeped into the cultural consciousness. Most people already know the basics. Here’s a brief refresher: for one night a year, every year, the United States legalizes all crime. Citizens are encouraged to ‘purge’ their negative emotions to keep crime low for the rest of the year. But the Purge films have always had a political soft-spot as well. Since the second film in the series, DeMonaco has never shied away from the deeper implications of his universe. Yes, all crime is legal during the Purge, but those most affected are minorities and the poor. The only people who seem to benefit are the rich white people in power. Hey, wait a minute…

The First Purge

…you’re telling me that the Purge films are about race and class struggle? Sure am, bud. And this isn’t new. It was established in The Purge: Anarchy that the rich use the Purge to execute the poor. Later, in The Purge: Election Year, the not-Republican pro-Purge leaders were the villains to Elizabeth Mitchell’s not-Hillary Clinton. You couldn’t get more politically overt. But here’s the thing: the Purge series has never been only about politics. They’ve first and foremost been a zany violent splatter-fest on an increasingly large scale. That’s the fun. That’s the appeal. Nobody goes to a Purge film for thoughtful political discourse, just like nobody eats a sundae for the cherry on top. The First Purge nails the politics, but completely loses sight of the fun.

“The American dream is dead.”

I feel quite strange arguing this, because I largely agree with the points made in The First Purge. Its message resonates. It’s quite rare to see a movie of this scale with all-black and Latino heroes. And yes, every single white person is a bad guy. There’s no subtlety or misdirection here — the message is clear, and this movie chooses a side. The film includes“p**sy-grabbing mother***kers”, alt-right tiki-torch fascists, the KKK, and actual Nazis among the bad guys. Even the first promotional image was political (see top). All of this makes sense to me. Hey, you wanna show black dudes kung fu-ing racist mercenaries? Here’s my ten bucks. But if your movie is called the Purge, then…throw me a little purge. Daddy needs to purge!

The First Purge

The Purge films are a guilty pleasure, and the politics behind them are what sells that pleasure. The series is unintentionally but surprisingly meta. It’s the film-going equivalent of actually participating in a real purge. Let’s hope they’re the closest we ever come. The First Purge, like the 2013 original, just doesn’t do enough with the premise. At its most outrageous, it’s laughably weak. Action films need action, comedies need jokes. The First Purge needed more ridiculous violence, and didn’t have enough to fill its run-time. Instead, we’re left with a pretty good B-Movie that’s reminiscent of early John Carpenter films. It’s just not really reminiscent of other Purge films.

“I’d purge like that every night!”

But apart from my expectations as a (somewhat embarrassed) fan of the previous films, The First Purge
is actually okay. The three-act structure leaves us with three different genres. A near-future racial drama becomes an uneasy dystopian fantasy, which eventually leads into Black Rambo. Seriously. And none of that is said as a negative. The second act is the closest we ever come to an actual Purge film, but due to the plot of this one, it’s hamstrung throughout. The third act — yes, Black Rambo, it’s awesome — is the one that’s going to sell a lot of people. It’s a departure for the Purge series, but not entirely unwelcome. Y’lan Noel kicks serious ass as a gang leader turned near-superhero, and I hope to see him in more action roles in the future.

The First Purge - Y'lan Noel

But while it’s woke as hell (or hella woke) and does a lot right, The First Purge is ultimately a letdown. Glowing contact lenses replace the ornate macabre masks of the previous films, but don’t quite live up to them. Whereas the previous films used violence to sell their message, this film places the message at the forefront. If you’re in the mood for social commentary with the subtlety of a rocket launcher, you can have a lot of fun with The First Purge. But if you’re a fan of previous Purge films, you might leave disappointed. The First Purge ends with two mid-credits scenes, one of which sets up the The Purge TV series on USA Network and Syfy. Maybe that will be better. But for now, this might be a Purge to avoid.

My Rating: 6.5/10

The First Purge - Poster

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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