The fourth in its series but pre-dating the first instalment, The First Purge, details the conception and creation of the first purge. At first this prequel gives a rather flimsy and wishy-washy explanation of a dystopian world's current state of affairs but writer James DeMonaco manages to successfully flesh it out into a more credible, if at times shmaltzy, affair focusing in on an enclosed Staten Island where the first ever purge is set take place.
In this dystopian world thats not so different from our own, the US is under the rule of a new right-wing government, called the New Founding Fathers of America. This government is looking for ways to solve the current woes of high criminality rates and over population, thus commission the experiment devised by Dr. Updale (Marisa Tomei) where the public could vent out the frustrations and release all inhibition for one evening, where all crime goes unpunished and thus may result in reducing overall crime but also cut population numbers. Local residence are given 5000 dollars stay on the island and are given even more money if they willing to participate.
The chunk of the film is taken up setting up the scene, taking a while for the crux of the story to kick in. Initially, the trial fails to ignite the expected killing rampage apart from a couple of incidents caused by a deranged, facially mutilated figure Skeleton, Rotimi Paul, who appears to be in his element. The government is then spurred into plan B or their covert plans all along. Headed up by Chief-of-Staff Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh), they proceed to unleash disguised militia into the area, who embark on a ruthless extermination, killing everyone in their way.
We see the unorthodox events unfold through the eyes of brother-sister duo; eco warrior Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and her younger brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade). Isaiah secretly signs up to partake in the purge whereas Nya and her fellow neighbours hall themselves in a barricaded church. We see other characters such as the devilishly handsome presence of Nya’s ex, D’Mitri (Y'lan Noel), a drug dealer who despite his felonious credentials has a real cringy soft heart as well one-liner-telling-it-like-it-is neighbour Dolores (Mugga), whose role as this sassy mama couldn't be more cliched albeit still amusing. As Isaiah discovers the horrors of purge reality, with his tail between his legs, he makes a remorseful return to his sister's arms with the help of D'Mitri. Nya and surving members of the church are now barricaded themselves back at the apartment block, however Nazi styled soldiers are on their trail, making their way up to their level, obliterating everything in sight.
The First Purge shares its societal commentary generously, the allegories could not be more obvious and that in itself is a daring, truly commendable, attribute. This prequel takes things a little further, delivering a clear political message which addresses racial chasms, inequality, poverty, violence and crime and thus intelligently saves the film from its plot predictability and sappiness. Where the previous purge films, written and directed by James DeMonaco, had more of an independent credibility and darker aesthetic, there intention was more elusive. The First Purge, also written by DeMonaco but with a new director at the helms Gerard McMurray, makes a point of this discernible symbolism. From the choice of enclosing a predominantly poor Black and Latino area to partake in the purge and have white folk monitoring the situation from their safe Fort Knox control deck, to militia police camouflaged as white supremacist groups of Klux Klax Klan or Nazi soldiers.
It’s a bold statement of political gesturing and even if it lacks some of the grit and horror of its predecessors it does manages to pull a few gripping punches here and there and its peppered with some comedic relief which make the whole viewing experience rather entertaining.
The First Purge is out now.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.