It’s funny how “The First Purge” turned out to be better than the first “Purge.”
Way back in 2013, I wasn’t expecting this little, low budget horror franchise to have a fourth installment, but here we are. Unlike the previous two, this entry is a prequel, showcasing how the first Purge event took place. The film picks up in the not so distant future where a new political party has taken power amid high unemployment and a crumbling infrastructure.
As a result, some scientists working for the government decided the best option is for an “experiment” where all crime could be legal and any individuals who are upset about the system or just their daily lives could take out their anger. As a trial run, the experiment only takes place in the area of Staten Island. There, a group of characters we’re introduced to must try to survive this new government operation, which we as the audience know from other “Purge” movies is really to eliminate poor Americans.
What always becomes the biggest issue for any “Purge” movie is the practicality of the very concept. This latest film is really a prime example. Some of the characters featured here are compelling, they have backgrounds that are actually fairly well defined, and there are some solid action set pieces featured. However, the leap in logic where a country would authorize this level of crime requires a very large suspension of disbelief.
This is especially true in this most recent adaptation, because it’s set in a very realistic, grounded world, since the Purge hasn’t started yet. Therefore, the entire concept seems even more foreign and ludicrous than in the other entries.
With all that said, the “Purge” franchise has still managed to make some exciting flicks. While the first one had a lot of problems, being nothing more than a simple home invasion feature, the second and third have been fairly exciting Grindhouse-like pictures. Both movies starred character-actor Frank Grillo and were basically “escort” films, where Grillo’s character had to help a group of people get from point A to point B.
The latest is no different, as it sets up a few very tense moments and also showcases some graphic, extreme action sequences. The story, though, doesn’t take on the escort plot that the previous two used.
This time around, the movie focuses on a gang leader Dimitri (Y’lan Noel), a political activist Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and her little brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade). Each of them come into the experiment with different expectations, and they all learn the horror of the night very quickly.
Dimitri, who becomes the main protagonist of the film, is especially transformed during the night, going from a seemingly selfish crime kingpin to a person who decides to use all of his resources to fight back against the Purge and defend his neighborhood.
His arc, combined with Nya’s goal of keeping her brother out of trouble while also being an activist against the government’s Purge, are rather engaging to watch and manages to hook an audience through the entire film. Their fight for survival and battle against government agents, who assist in upping the amount of deaths during the Purge, make for solid entertainment.
Noel is especially good at carrying the picture in the lead role. He has plenty of charisma and is a natural at taking on the action hero part, especially in the third act.
However, the film’s quality takes a bit of a dive when it focuses on the government leaders watching the experiment on monitors. They seem cartoonish in their villainy at times and their tone sometimes clashes with the more realistic socio-economic issues the film wants to tackle.
The picture’s horror elements are kind of hit or miss, too. There was some good, creepy imagery from time-to-time that was effective, but there were others that were a bit more cliché and just there to punch things up.
Overall, like its predecessors, “The First Purge” has its share of issues and at times it feels like its beating you over the head with its social commentary. However, if you’re looking for a solid B-movie with some fun action and thrills, this isn’t a bad pick. 3.25 out of 5.