The First Purge (2018)

The first Purge, that is, the original 2013 film, wasn’t all that great. Yet each sequel has done the exact opposite of tradition by being better than the film that inspired it. 2016’s The Purge: Election Year ended the 12-hour evening of lawlessness, so where do you go from here? A prequel. Can it live up to where the series has gone over three films?

While this entry is written and produced by James DeMonaco, this is the first time he has not directed one of the films, handing those duties over to Gerard McMurray.

Ever wondered how The Purge came to be? Well, to push the crime rate below 1% for the rest of the year and restore the economy, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) decided to test Dr. May Updale’s (Marisa Tomei, slumming it here John Cassavetes style) theory that a one night venting of aggression would do wonders for people’s state of mind.

However, the test doesn’t happen in the suburbs, but instead in the marginalized, low income, black and Latino neighborhood of Staten Island. Despite $5,000 being given to each Purger (you gotta spend money to make money, I guess) and more money offered for each kill, people decide that they wanna party more than they wanna kill. And that’s when the NFFA takes matters into its own hands, sending in mercenary death squads to get the job done.

Can protestor Nya and her brother Isaiah survive the night and the attention of the maniacal drug addict Skeletor (the best part of the film, as he owns the screen from the second he first appears)? Will drug lord Dmitri rise up and defend the neighborhood that he’s pillaged? Will white people wear Klan hoods and Nazi outfits and burn churches to the ground?

Do I even need to answer these questions?

That said — I was entertained by this movie, which is both simultaneously wish fulfillment and dire warning. It’s also so many movies in one, combining a slasher film with a running movie with a dystopian/post-apocalyptic film, then adding a side of gritty urban drama, a crime movie and finally, an action shoot ’em up. It works if you don’t think too much about how The Purge could ever become true. Actually, screw that. Over the past two years, I totally see how it could not only happen, but be endorsed by the American people.

This movie isn’t going to be escapism from the slowly darkening world outside the theater. It’s junk food, sugar-filled candy that conceals a center that we’re all finding harder and harder to swallow. If only the world’s problems were so easily solved within 12 hours that could unite us all by violence, which in these films, seems to solve everything. The real world is much messier, much more depressing and much more oppressive.

That said, if you want to see a Nazi in neon gleaming latex get shot with a rocket, it’s pretty much the best pick you’ll find this summer.

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