Instead of a trilogy, The Purge is now officially a franchise. Surpassing the trilogy milestone, Blumhouse Productions has decided to give us an origin to the dangerous and violent phenomenon we have become a part of since 2013 when the first film was released. This franchise continues to grow with each installment feeling more closer and closer to the real thing and stepping out of the horror fantastical world it has created. Advertised and promoted as an anti-Trump film from the poster of his orange/red hat “making America great again” to a lot of the themes in the films, using the purge as a device to control the population and also thin the numbers to the low income and ethnic population in the U.S. Now comes the question, do we like that these movies are speaking more towards social and economic commentary or would we like to keep it as a fictional tale showcasing a world that is nowhere near our future for entertainment value?
The First Purge is a prequel took place just a few days before the first purge only within a locked and barricaded Staten Island New York, that focuses on the steps and procedures leading up, as well as the reasoning for such an experiment. A chosen few characters take center stage showcasing the different types of people and social groups and how it affects them throughout the night which includes gangs, organized crime, protesters and Anti-purge activist, and even the crazy and sadistic people who have been waiting for an opportunity to let their rage and anger out into the world without fear or consequence.
This film in my opinion was less about the character study and more about the message within the film as well as the meta message regarding the Trump administration. If you look at the previous films, there was hint of this message throughout the films but it was always about the moral implications and how people handled themselves with the option of giving into their animal instincts. That was one thing I loved about these films is that we really got to see a human study of their psyche. This origin story didn’t focus on that too much. These characters including Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), a gang leader, making sure that his business doesn’t stop progressing and his rivals don’t try and take out the competition. Then there is Nya (Lex Scott Davis), an activist against the idea of the purge, her brother Isaiah (Jolvan Wade), who wants to show that he can be a man and pull his weight financially decides to sell drugs but also give the impression he can handle these mean street with ease without showing weakness. There is also Dr. Updale (Marisa Tomei), who without any political influence is the mastermind of the idea and created this experiment. These characters while likable and people to root for still felt one-dimensional. There was no complexity in the decisions they were making. They were only vessels to further play out the message of the movie that we are heading to this fictional truth in some shape or form that certain “groups” of people are being targeted and this experiment is a cover to shield a more political game.
The execution of the movie was okay. Within the first image of the film you see a man who clearly is a drug addict and mentally unstable be interviewed by the people working for the experiment and looking for volunteers to not only stay on the island but to also participate in the experiment for financial compensation. They didn’t care what state of mind these people were in. All they wanted to know is, “Are you angry, full of rage, and have thoughts of letting that anger out violently?” and they targeted people who were poor and looking for a break by paying them a huge sum of money should they survive the night. As we continue to learn more about the characters and the connections they have with each other and why they would be targeted for the night, you watch the purge unfold and you have more of a calculated kill spree and violent shenanigans then the sporadic and random acts you are used to from the earlier installments. This movie became more of an action thriller than a horror. I say that because there was a lot of gunfight, a central hero, a group of locals to save, and less scares. While I did jump a few times, I found myself saddened as what was transpiring than actually being scared or feeling fear. One of the “purge acts” in the film was our young heroine Nya walking in the isolated streets of Staten Island and all of a sudden close to an open sewer grate, she was hook tied by the ankle and almost dragged into a pit of presumably middle-aged men whose only goal was to for a lack of a better term rape and “pussy grab” her since the camera focused on these faceless assailants trying to grab her between her legs. As she escapes, she yells out “fucking pussy grabbers” or something along those lines, as she runs to safety. Clearly a direct nod to a scandal associated with Donald Trump during his presidential campaign.
I was completely engaged with the film but it wasn’t fun anymore. I know some of you will even ask why I think a night where all illegal crime including murder is fun to watch. That is a whole other conversation but what made these movies fun is that its situations, while possible, were still very far from the truth. I am speaking more on the idea of the purge. The violence is very real in our world but the idea of the purge seemed so far from ever being true but this movie really laid out the ground work as to why we could be heading in that direction given our current status in the U.S. that to me took the fun out of the movie and it didn’t really seem like a movie to “escape to” as most horror movies tend to provide. With horror movies now using horror more as a soapbox and message board to showcase metaphorically how our world is getting worse and worse by the minute, it makes sense the direction this franchise has taken. I think this movie is a solid film but the fun has been taken away. To sum it up, I turned to my friend who accompanied me to the film and asked him what he thought. His response was, “This movie just had a lot of senseless violence but felt too close to home. I would have rather watched a true story or a documentary on the subject.”
There you have it, was this movie too real for its own good? Did we need this movie to move into that direction? What do you like to get from these films when you watch them? Depending on the type of moviegoer you are, this may be right up your alley or you are the type that may think these films have lost what made them different from other horror franchises. If you have seen the other films, I am sure your curiosity will take you to the theatres to watch this. The violence and carnage were there, a few jump scares and even some laughs if you can believe it. The First Purge is worth the watch and if you haven’t seen the previous films, this movie stands alone for you to enjoy it and also follow it without being lost.
Also, make sure to stay through the credits as there are two mid credit scenes for you to look at. A foreshadow to connect the previous films to this one and another scene to show you the future of the franchise.