America has finally become sick of both Republicans and Democrats, leading to a new third party to rise: The New Founding Fathers of America. Their candidate wins the presidential campaign and promises to rebuild this country. How? Some pretty radical ideas, for starters. One of his people, Dr. Updale (Marisa Tomei) has developed a social experiment that – if successful – will become a national institution: The Purge! The idea is to have 1 night a year, for 12 hours, where all crime including murder is totally legal. This will allow the American people a chance to get out all their anger and frustration at life. The experiment is being tested on Staten Island. None of the residents HAVE to stay there, but those that do will be awarded $5,000 if they survive the night and more if they participate. Would you purge?
Meet our heroes: activist against the experiment, Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and her younger brother trying to find his place in the world, Isaiah (Joivan Wade). They have history with a local crime lord Dmitri (Y’lan Noel) who just wants his crew to survive the night and still has feelings for Nya after their past relationship. Their paths will cross numerous times – sometimes with conflict, and others for survival. Of course, there needs to be a villain who excels in this Purge situation, so in the mix is a psychotic thug named Skeletor (Rotimi Paul).
With the exception of Skeletor taking lives, The Purge starts out kind of slow with just a few crimes here and there and some block parties, while Nya and her friends Dolores (Mugga) and Luisa (Luna Lauren Valez) hold an all-night vigil for those who remain non-violent and just want to survive the night to collect their $5,000. As disappointing as this is or the political powers-that-be, it doesn’t last long when numerous mysterious gangs (including bikers, KKK Klansmen and masked thugs) take to the streets killing everyone in their wake. Our heroes will need to cast aside their difference if they’re to survive The First Purge.
This movie is jam-packed with political messages about the state of our nation today, along with thinly veiled Easter eggs about today’s America. In many cases, it doesn’t even bother trying to be subtle about it, occasionally bordering on “preachy” as it hammers its points in full assault to make you wake up and take a look at the world around you. For some, this message is much-needed and comes in the form of a thrilling cinematic experience to take notice. Some viewers (myself included) may find it a bit heavy-handed.
Ok. So it’s a vehicle for a political agenda. But is it a good movie? Absolutely! There are a few cases where the dialogue comes off as unrealistic as its message is made and hammered home, but it’s mostly a fun time with strong acting and above average pacing. Each actor lived their role and made me believe their motivation and situation, their connections and their grief. Even secondary roles were given great attention, all wonderfully fleshed out thanks to screenwriter James DeMonaco (writer/director of the previous 3 Purge movies, coming a long way since his first feature credit with Francis Ford Coppola/ Robin Williams’ Jack). Since he directed the first 3 movies, I’m surprised he ceded that responsibility for Gerard McMurray (Burning Sands).
I have to wonder if the change in directorial hands is because the subject of the script has switched from rich white people purging (ultimate white privilege) to poor ethnically black (and a few Hispanics) just trying to stay alive and find their place in the world as they’re exploited.
The First Purge is a good time, but the messages beg for real change in America today, using a brutal thriller as a front. Those on the left, millennial, and other “woke” citizens will love this movie and point to it as a major turning point in modern cinema (along with that other Blumhouse fan favorite, Get Out). Those who are still living with the mindset of decades past and believing fully in Trump’s America will likely be turned off by its obvious agenda – including a very obvious joke at the President’s expense.