Universal Pictures, in association with Platinum Dunes Blumhouse Productions, presents the latest installment in The Purge franchise, with The First Purge. Directed by Gerard McMurray, with a script by James DeMonaco, The First Purge is a prequel to the previous installments and is just as good as the earlier films.
In 2014, in an attempt to push the crime rate below 1% for the rest of the year, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) tests a sociological theory envisioned by a doctor, known as The Architect (Marisa Tomei), that vents aggression for one night in one isolated community in Staten Island, New York. The experiment is known as the ‘Purge”, where there are no laws for twelve hours, and all crime is legal. To sweeten the deal, the NFFA offers money to the residents who decide to stay on the island, with more money promised if they chose to participate.
Nya (Lex Scott Davis) is one of the residents who is against the “Purge”, and is doing her best to protect her little brother Isaiah (Jovian Wade) from the lure of the streets. However, Isaiah is keeping a secret from his sister that involves a crackhead named Skeletor (Rotimi Paul), which could endanger both of their lives. Meanwhile, Nya’s ex-boyfriend Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), is a feared drug dealer who is also against the idea of Purging and doesn’t want any of his crew participating. As the experiment progresses, it’s found that the amount of participation turns out to be lower than anticipated and the NFFA’S Chief of Staff (Patch Darragh) decides to take matters into his own hands.
The Purge films are a rarity in the horror franchise, as each film seems to push the storyline a bit further and improve the previous installment. With the last movie, The Purge Election Year ending on a series close out note, I felt that it was a wise choice, for James DeMonaco (who has written all the previous films in the series) to go the prequel route. In hindsight, The First Purge is a modern-day Blaxploitation flick mixed with a message about race relations in America. As I sat in the theater, watching The First Purge, I nodded my head in agreement with some of the dialogue that Dmitri used in describing why his community is the area chosen for the experiment.
I also must give credit to director Gerard McMurrary, and some of the symbolism he chose to use in the film to show just how true to life the movie is. Some of the bad guys in the movie carry tiki torches while others wore KKK hoods. While it might be seen as propaganda and forced to some, for me, it’s a gutsy move that pays off.
One of the highlights of the film is the casting, as both Y’lan Noel (Dmitri) and Lex Scott Davis (Nya) give star making performances. Watching Y’lan Noel kick all kinds of butt, reminded me of a young Wesley Snipes, and I hope that he gets more work after this. Lex Scott Davis has a bit more work under her belt, but with her breathtaking beauty and natural charisma, she is a joy to watch on screen.
I did have two small gripes with The First Purge. The first is the omission of Frank Grillo’s character Leo Barnes who appeared in the second and third films. Grillo is one of my favorite modern day tough guys, and while The First Purge is a prequel, I would’ve loved to see Grillo used in some capacity. My second gripe is the under usage of Skeletor (Rotimi Paul). When he appears in the opening scene, Skeletor delivers a chilling monologue that perfectly sets up the film. Skeletor’s big moments in the movie were some of the best scenes in the film for me. Similar to Y’lan Noel, Rotimi Paul is an actor I hope to see more of in the future, due to their commanding screen presence.
The First Purge may not win any big awards, but it is a thought-provoking popcorn movie that successfully mixes horror and action with social commentary.
Final Grade: A-