I get it. The First Purge, although serving as an origin story for the rest of the franchise, is a satirical take on many contemporary issues that the world finds itself embroiled in today. In fact, it’s hard not to get it. The message is very clearly conveyed to the audience with all the subtlety of a Taylor Swift video, and that’s just the start of the problems. It’s a shame really, as the premise of the ultra violent near future battle Royale, could have been a winner. Think how good it may have been in the hands of Charlie Brooker – it would have been the best “Black mirror” episode ever.
However what we get in The First Purge, is a dreary, mean spirited and left leaning drama that fails to convince and descends quite quickly into over the top shenanigans. We follow most of the action, literally, through the eyes of young Joivan Wade who plays Isaiha, the brother of anti Purge protester Nya, played by Lex Scott Davis, and drug dealing community wrecker Dmitri, (Y’lan Noel). The experiment run by the hilarious NFFA, that the actors all struggle to say clearly, and funded by the NRA, is set in motion by a bemused Marisa Tomei who feels that a 12 hour period of complete anarchy, might quell the appetite for it for the rest of the year. When she declares “What have I done?” in the last reel, I thought she was referring to her career.
Angry participants can opt in with trackers and contact lenses that relay the events as they happen, and they get 5K if they survive the event. We watch as things slowly escalate, from Block Parties to looting till Rotemi Paul as the oddly named Skeletor makes the first killing, some unlucky sod trying to rob an ATM, and then hell, as usual, breaks loose. As things spiral into the bizarre mix of ultra violence and costumed murderers, we, the audience, have to watch various scenes of murder and mayhem perpetrated on the predominantly black and Hispanic community. There are marauding gangs of white supremacists on motor bikes attacking churches, and motorcycle cops beating a man to death in a football field. The message is hollow though, as the scenes represented are only there to entertain and shock us. The imagery is so ham fisted that it falls into the realm of comic book politics, and I can’t help feel that a better script may have been kinder to what the production team is inevitably trying to say.
Such sensitive and controversial themes should be approached with more care, and not used as a blunt instrument to beat us over the head with. The last reel plays out with no surprises, everyone does what you imagine they would, and we are left with a mid credit talking head explaining that the success of the experiment means the Purge will be available all across the US next year. As far as franchises go, The Purge has done well to get this far, the previous outing Election Year, grossed nearly 120 million on an 11 million dollar production,so I imagine things look good for this entry too. Unfortunately I felt this was a badly scripted exploitation movie that could have been a scathing satire, but comes across as a cartoon parody of itself. It’s made even worse by piling cliches on top of other cliches and forcing humor into painfully un funny and awkward situations.
By the end of the screening, the cinema we were in emptied quicker than the last bus out of Staten Island. Pointless, violent and ultimately soulless, this was a chore.