Film Review – The First Purge (2018)

The common denominator of the previous Purge movies, frustratingly, was a sense that they were always much better conceptually than they were in practice. The idea for a movie, the series of movies, based around the notion that, for one night of the year, anything goes and there is no law, was a great idea, never brilliantly realised. The previous Purge movies presented audiences with some tantalising ideas and interesting subtextual notions, but never quite delivered anything more than a perfectly reasonable piece of, increasingly action-heavy, horror.

The fourth in the series, a prequel that charts the implementation of the Purge programme and the very first night of lawlessness is essentially more of the same: an interesting-sounding piece of satire that’s admittedly much more overtly political, but still shackled with a sense of the perfunctory.

Set in what essentially contemporary America, Gerard McMurray’s aggressive and unashamedly political movie sees a dangerous neo-conservative US government test pilot the Purge programme in the relatively isolated, if still fairly enormous, a community of Staten Island.

The New Founding Fathers have spuriously introduced the system in order to allow usually law-abiding citizens a chance to let their steam off for one day a year in order to tackle a rising crime rate. But with the first Purge taking place in an almost entirely working-class part of New York, there is a frightening sense that the violence, delicately orchestrated by the government, is specifically targeting those on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder (particularly people of colour) in order to keep them down-at-heel, allowing the elite to consolidate their power.

The publicity campaign for this has deliberately invoked the rhetoric of the Make America Great Again campaign and it’s no surprise to see the movie taking broad pot-shots at Trump, the NRA, and conservative middle America while skewering the politics of fear that seem to be prevalent today.

When the movie works best, it’s when those heavy-handed, but still relatively satisfying, moments of satire hit home with a wallop. As events unfold there is a discovery involving a shadowy Russian influence and one man is chastised for “pussy groping”.

As with previous Purge movies, though, the good work to inject a vein of irony and political commentary is undermined by a script that fails to do many of the basics with any kind of flair. The First Purge is a movie totally inhabited by tedious characters that exist as nothing more than lazy 2D stereotypes or grotesque, and largely boring, caricatures.

There’s also a bit of a sense of a movie having its cake and eating it. Jabs at the NRA are followed by moments of fetishized gun violence and it’s a script that perpetuates the myth of the “good guy with the gun”. There’s not a single moment of real invention horror-wise and, as it fizzles out with so much underwhelming, straight-to-DVD quality action, you’re left with the feeling that, like its forebears, this one was much more interesting on paper.

Chris Banks |★★1/2

Action, Horror, Sci-Fi | 15 | USA, 2018 | 4th July 2018 | Universal Pictures  UK| Dir. Gerard McMurray| Y’Lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Luna Lauren Velez, Marisa Tomei.

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