‘The First Purge’ Blu-Ray Review: Political Commentary Muddled By Middling Thrills
The First Purge, the fourth film in James DeMonaco’s series, is a prequel set before the original trilogy, explaining the origins of the series’ namesake Purge event. While the previous Purge films all made political statements, The First Purge overtly displays it themes, but is it stronger for it?
THE FIRST PURGE BLU-RAY REVIEW
Our first visual is a closeup of Skeletor (Rotimi Paul), a Staten Island citizen with a tenuous grasp on sanity. He expresses his explosive dislike of “everything,” confessing that getting high is how he manages his violent desires to “purge.” The nameless scientist interviewing him assures the twitchy New Yorker that he may soon get his wish.
We’re then treated to a montage that sums up the political landscape of the film’s dystopian present, where the Democrats and Republicans are losing influence to the contemporary New Founding Fathers of America (or NFFA) party. Staten Island is currently on the cusp of enacting the NFFA’s first “Purge,” a 12-hour stretch when all crime will be not only legalized, but encouraged. While many living on the island were unhappy with this development, anyone harboring the desire to commit crimes could do so for monetary compensation. All they needed to do was sign up, tell the interviewer how angry they are, and wear the glow-in-the-dark eye contacts that function as tracking devices when the event begins. Save for Skeletor and a few quibbles, however, the community sticks together and avoids performing any egregious offenses, opting instead to take shelter or partake in a block party.
We have three primary leads: Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), who’s heroic and brave underneath his drug dealing; Isaiah (Joivan Wade), who initially volunteers because he needs the money but disowns his involvement upon realizing how vile the Purge is; and Isaiah’s sister Nya (Lex Scott Davis) who is probably the wisest of the group. None of these characters are particularly deep, nor do they grow much as the movie progresses (although Isaiah fares the best), but they’re all likable.
Over halfway into the movie, Chief of Staff Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh) and Dmitri jointly spell out the flick’s thesis statement: the government is marginalizing poor communities, and fighting back may be necessary. Regardless of whether you agree with the sentiment, it’s certainly a timely message given the current political climate and I do applaud director Gerard McMurray for trying to say something resonant.
However, although there isn’t an inherent problem with being blunt about your message, The First Purge’s delivery of it fumbles. While I would’ve appreciated more nuance, the movie doesn’t delve into its themes as deeply as it could have. Moreover, The First Purge’s window dressing further weakens the experience; little suspense or tension powers its admittedly solid action sequences and middling jump scares. Some classify The First Purge as a horror movie, but any spooks the audience may get purely come from the implications of its message rather than any of the events encountered onscreen. Skeletor’s presence is particularly jarring, undermining any danger he poses with his puerile, overzealous antics.
Anyone looking for meaty bonuses to delve into will be disappointed, as three short making-of features and a single deleted scene are all that’s accounted for here. There isn’t even a commentary track, a glaring omission as it would’ve been interesting to hear insights into the creation of the movie.