Entertainment » Movies

The First Purge

by Padraic Maroney
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jul 5, 2018
'The First Purge'
'The First Purge'  

The Purge films have never been known for their subtlety. As the series has progressed, the films have become less horror-tinged and more of an allegory based on our current political climate, similar to what George Romero attempted with the "Night of the Living Dead" series. While they have all dealt with class and race issues, "The First Purge" tackles the idea of propaganda and fake news.

Set on Staten Island during the initial purge, when it is merely referred to as "the experiment," the film changes the format by offering a look at the days leading up to its commencement. This offers more insight than was offered in the previous films about how it all starts, including how it got its name.

The Purge is conceived by a behavioral psychologist, Dr. Updale (A criminally underused Marisa Tomei), who sees it as a way to quell growing hostility and provide the citizens with an outlet to unleash their pent-up frustrations. A recently created political party, the New Founding Fathers of America, decides to test her hypothesis - even going as far as offering residents $5,000.00 to stay, with the option to earn more if the residents become active participants. But when not enough people purge, they take matters into their own hands to be able to sell it to the rest of the nation.

James DeMonaco, the mastermind behind the series, cedes the director's chair this time around to focus on scripting duties. Gerard McMurray borrows some of his predecessor's stylistic flourishes, but being that this is a prequel, he's not tied to having to follow it too closely. As such, this film also veers into a new creative direction, with the last act being reminiscent to the "Die Hard" films, and actor Y'lan Noel (TV's "Insecure"), as the friendly neighborhood drug kingpin with a heart of gold, is more than competent to fill out Bruce Willis' tank top. It also serves a soft reboot for this series, which had painted itself into a corner with the last film.

It's good that McMurray and DeMonaco have pivoted the film, as the director isn't able to achieve any tension during the short 97 minute running time. The buildup to the start of the purge should naturally have been tense, as everyone buckles down and prepares, but the film keeps jumping around too much to achieve anything. Even when a sadistic purger crashes a party, there's a tension leading up to his eventual act of the revelers. In terms of scares, McMurray relies on a handful of jump scares between action sequences.

The problem with DeMonaco's script - and a problem for the series overall - is the lack of characters worth getting invested in as they fight for survival. DeMonaco's characters are barely more than plot devices and about as fleshed out as a Flat Stanley stick figure. With the previous films being snapshots of various annual purges, the casual viewer has been able to look past the lack of development. Struggling to survive doesn't always allow a lot of time for heart to heart conversations.

This time around the world has been opened up and he has a lot of toys to play with, yet he still squanders it. In an alternate universe, there's a movie that follows Tomei's doctor as she attempts to put the genie back in the lamp after helping unleash it, rather than having her be a naïve - and, ultimately, an easily discarded - character. She deserves better but judging by how bored the actress appears throughout the film this was probably just a quick paycheck for her.

While creating fully-realized characters might be an Achilles heel, DeMonaco is able to weave in the timely notion that what is in the media isn't always as real as the American people think it is. The politicians in the film are trying hard to sell the experiment on a larger scale and do so by leaking out clips from people partaking in purge activities to the media, who eat it up. The scariest part of the film is thinking how close we might actually be to this whole situation becoming a reality.

Now clocking in at four movies and a television show, "The Purge" universe seems to be attempting to re-invent itself. In order to do so, the creators need to give the audience more to care about in that world. We know how it starts and how it ends, but there have to be worthwhile stories to tell in the middle if DeMonaco wants to continue to milk the series for everything it is worth.

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