The First Purge is the 4th film in the Purge anthology, a staple of the Blumhouse Productions company. This continuing series of films explores a world where the government allows all crime to take place without legal repercussions for a period of about 12 hours, encouraging citizens to steal, vandalize, and murder to their heart’s content all in order to release the pent-up rage that is supposedly responsible for their societal failures the rest of the year.
The goal is, supposedly, that everyone is better-behaved for the rest of the year because they can just wait and hold it in till their one night of release. In this larger world, The First Purge shows us the events of the great experiment, the first time this fictional world tries to purge. They use an isolated environment on a single island in order to see if it will work well in the rest of the country.
When discussing a film from a larger franchise it’s important to talk about it in relation to that franchise for context, so I need to disclose that this is the first Purge film that I have watched. Something I get curious about with films is how sequels or prequels stand on their own, so when I get the opportunity to dive into a franchise fresh I try to take that chance. With that said, The First Purge is an average but entertaining Sci-Fi satire, similar to classics such as RoboCop, Running Man, and Escape from L.A. that tries to dive into all of the ways that society preys on its people.
Some of the best parts of the movie are when it is absolutely over-the-top. Ku-Klux-Klan street gangs vs. citizen militias, and frequent shots of politicians that are practically cartoon super-villains. Fans of B movie violence are catered to more than any other audience. What I remember most after walking out of the theater is primarily the glee with which the director engages with the action and violence sequences of the film to a point of absurdity. All of the core action set pieces are flawed on a number of levels but are so playful it’s easy to forgive and just enjoy the pace.
I feel bad while trying to discuss this film because I enjoyed it a lot, but I find it difficult to focus on what I liked about it. There are some obvious flaws that hold The First Purge back. It’s easy to point out weak acting, contrived plot points, or even thin character development. Really, though, there are few moments that don’t compare to the problems with other films of the same style. The problem is that these issues are sprinkled evenly throughout the experience, and they are distracting. But, I don’t want to focus on them. In a way, I think the problem is that the movie is too well made.
Director Gerard McMurray displays the greatest degree of competence in shot composition. Working with cinematographer Anastas N. Michos, Gerard McMurray has delivered a clear and beautiful picture through the film. There’s a high level of competence in ensuring that each frame is well focused and displays everything that the actors and story bring to the table, and in a weird way… that’s problematic. It highlights and exacerbates the issues.
Additionally, writer James MeMonaco has attempted to bring a grounded world. When I think of other films that dive into an absurd satirical portrayal of governments preying on a deteriorating population, one of the things that the best of them do is create an insane world. Take for example the TV shows from RoboCop or the entire world of The Running Man where you see a population whose attitude matches the madness of the world they inhabit. The First Purge is FILLED with people who are fully aware of how bad this idea is who protest and take action against it. Moreover, the only things anyone in the world watches whenever they’re around a TV is news about the purge itself.
The First Purge Overall: 3.5/5
Ultimately, The First Purge is an enjoyable satire. It has a lot of fun violence and some interesting ideas, though I seriously wish it had been a little more playful with its subject matter and dived deeper into delivering a film with more style or flavor compared to its competent blandness. Fans of the genre will find a lot to be satisfied with all the same, making The First Purge easy to recommend to fans of thought-provoking and gory satire.