The First Purge

 

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The fourth instalment in The Purge franchise is a prequel that is relentlessly violent and brutally efficient.

 

First Purge, The

 

The First Purge really wants to have its cake and eat it. On one level a topical, saw-toothed satire on the growing social divide in contemporary America, it is also a full-blown blast of exploitation that feeds the sadism of its intended audience. Tapping into the relentless bloodlust of such genre classics as Assault on Precinct 13, Battle Royale and the critically acclaimed The Raid (2011) from Indonesia, the film is a savage critique of human nature – but with a twist.

 

Following the enormously successful The Purge (2013), The Purge: Anarchy (2014) and The Purge: Election Year (2016), this is a prequel to keeps the fans happy until the broadcast of the TV series (The Purge) in September. The premise is simple: for 12 hours each year the populace is allowed to exorcise its rage with impunity, committing any crime he or she feels like, so that for the remainder of the year everybody can live in peace. It’s an outrageous conceit, and one that leads to untold horrors, and this prequel is the most ludicrous yet.

 

For the first experiment in this government-endorsed lawlessness, Staten Island is cordoned off for what is whimsically dubbed “societal catharsis.” The opening scenes are well played, as crowds group to protest, news stations add their commentary and the chief executive himself (Ian Blackman) explains his motives because “the American dream is dead.”

 

What, inevitably, unfolds is a living nightmare as vandalism, then looting, then murder spirals out of control as the carnival atmosphere of Halloween is transmogrified into a free-for-all genocide. Residents of ‘the projects’ in the centre of Staten Island are paid $5,000 a piece to sit it out, while those willing to roam the streets and record what they see (through special contact lenses) are compensated even more handsomely.

 

James DeMonaco, who directed the first three films, has written a script that focuses on a tight-knit group of New Yorkers and they are deftly embodied by a cast of unknowns. Interestingly, the real innocent of the group, Isaiah, recalls another young African-American thrust into a racial meltdown, i.e. Chris Washington in Get Out, a film that was also produced by Jason Blum. Also interesting is that this character is convincingly played by an English actor, Joivan Wade, perhaps best known as Jordan Johnson in EastEnders. There are also good turns from real Americans, including Y'Lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Mugga and, of all people, Marisa Tomei as the architect of the plan.

 

Considering the violence on display, and the inhumanity that the film exploits, the 15 certificate does seem extraordinarily lenient. Besides the hideous death toll, the potency of the profanity, the drug misuse and at least one scene of sexual impropriety, the film hardly pulls its punches. Yet one must judge it for what it is: an entirely competent horror film. Its supplementary forays into political commentary, displays of media manipulation and gladiatorial nature of the news coverage is just the mustard on the steak, served raw. One might also see it as an admonitory sword thrust into the heart of Middle America.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Y'Lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Mugga, Lauren Velez, Marisa Tomei, Kristen Solis, Mo McRae, Steve Harris, Ian Blackman, Melonie Diaz.

 

Dir Gerard McMurray, Pro Jason Blum, Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, Sébastien K. Lemercier and James DeMonaco, Screenplay James DeMonaco, Ph Anastas N. Michos, Pro Des Sharon Lomofsky, Ed Jim Page, Music Kevin Lax, Costumes Amela Baksic.

 

Platinum Dunes/Blumhouse Productions-Universal Pictures

97 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 4 July 2018. Cert. 15.