Of all the film franchises that have existed, none boggle my mind more than The Purge films. This has to be the greatest “what if…” scenario ever to grace a cinema screen purely down to how expansive the premise is. I have a supporter of The Purge films because I want them to find their perfect angle and after three films I felt that there was a massive amount of trying and testing that still needed to be done. By the time The First Purge was released I was hoping after six years of rigorous fixing and fine-tuning, they had finally created the perfect Purge film formula. Any other fans of the Purge series will be surprised to learn that The First Purge has had a complete makeover from its predecessors, making audiences tread unexplored ground, but is this now a perfect Purge formula? Far from it, unfortunately.
So how is The First Purge different from the rest? Firstly, the actual purging is not as glorified as it once was. What originally drew people into The Purge films was the Purge event itself and wanting to see how the people of this world would use creative ways to “cleanse their souls”. Not a lot of purging is actually done in The First Purge which is understandable because they set it up to be a controversial experiment so not a lot of people are going to be into it. However, once the killing starts, I felt the only thing wild about the kills were the characters committing them, not the kill itself. For example, the films psychotic character Skeletor (I swear that his actual name) played by Rotimi Paul commits the first kill of The Purge and it’s not exactly one to glamour at, it’s only his over the top monologue delivery that adds glamour to it.
The most impressive aspect to me is the film’s exploration into how this night wounds a community. Taking place on Staten Island in an underdeveloped, African-American community, we follow members of the said community who are out to protect one another from the violence. The films lead Dmitri (Y’lan Noel) is the force of unity and Y’lan’s performance as that central protecting figure is very good. Remember how Frank Grillo stole the show in The Purge: Anarchy, Y’lan is on the same wavelength. The most interesting character for me was the community activist Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and ex-girlfriend to Dmitri. She is firmly against The Purge because she has friends and family who are vulnerable and need protecting. Through these two characters, the community spirit shines in the film resulting in its audience caring for them which is something that had begun to decline in The Purge films.
Known for it’s on the nose political and social satire, The First Purge takes its satire and makes it painfully obvious, though I could have guessed this was the case with the film’s first poster. The film is possibly the first in your face anti-Trump film released (I felt Election Year was more coincidental) it even condemns organizations associated with Trump support such as the NRA. This is received by audiences as either laughably bad or laughably fun, it really depends on personal preference. I would say that it does lean more towards laughably bad, but in a so bad it’s good way. it is a guilty pleasure film series after all.
But no matter how much guilty pleasure you get from The First Purge, you can’t become blind to the film’s narrative and technical faults, this is what I mean by The First Purge not finding its perfect formula. The first glaring problem I noticed was that the filmmaking had become significantly cheaper. This budget-cutting style of filmmaking declines in quality that should be prioritized, the blood splatters that have been computer generated doesn’t fit with the lighting of the film, the red is too bright. There are scenes when the tension is built only to be released by a cut to black as though the power has gone out, the heavy use of a strobe lighting effect in the final scenes are strenuous on the eyes and often hides the action from the audience. Was there no control during post-production? Because from what I’ve seen, the filmmakers either couldn’t care or couldn’t be bothered.
Aside from the violence, the other key selling point of the film is that it was finally going to show fans how The Purge began. Fans have been told numerous times about America before The Purge, of how the poverty and financial crashes led to this night happening. Fans are going to have to wait longer because the only information we get is through news report exposition. You can tell us how bad America is but it’s not convincing enough to show stock footage of riots, you have to put the audience right in the thick of it.
It was a little daunting when James DeMonaco stepped down from directing. The franchise was always wanting to improve and evolve, but The First Purge takes as many steps back as it does forwards meaning it is stuck in the same place, but maybe that place is best for the series. The commentary the film is trying to get across is too obvious and it made me miss the subtlety. Whilst the violence is more real, I miss the creativity. I will still remain a fan of this film series because I want to see this premise work but at the moment the creators are seeing the premise in tunnel vision.
Final Result: 4/10 – Below Average
Have you seen The First Purge? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
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