At this point, it’s safe to say The Purge is a very successful franchise. With 4 films under its belt and a current television show airing on USA, the series has worked its way from a small (relatively speaking) $3 million film in 2013 to a legit genre powerhouse 5 years later. In fact, per Box Office Mojo all 4 films in the franchise had a combined budget of $35 million with a domestic box office gross of more than $284 million. I’m no numbers expert, but that seems pretty solid. And this all after Andre Drummond spoiled the ending of the first on Twitter the week of its release. That dick. All this to say, The Purge is a bit of a freight train and isn’t likely to go away any time soon.
The latest entry in the franchise, The First Purge, it Blu-ray earlier this week. This prequel to the rest of the series takes us to the birth of the New Founding Fathers of America and introduces us to an experiment that eventually turns into The Purge that we all know today. The NFFA senses a divide in the country and uses that to rise to power. Their front is that they see the plight of the average American and want to help them, but that’s just a ploy to gain all the power to further help themselves.
Their pitch to America is that with crime rates so high and constantly getting higher that the only way to stop them is to allow for a 12-hour window where all crime is legal. They choose Staten Island as the test site because it’s an easy place to keep enclosed. There’s also a lot of brown people who live there that they hope will kill one another off. The experiment doesn’t exactly go the way the NFFA says it will. The people living on Staten Island don’t attack one another. Some do, of course, as there are people who are just plain evil, but for the most part the community is pretty calm and chooses not to take part in the violence. Some people actually throw huge block parties.
The NFFA plans for this. They entice some of the locals with large sums over money to partake in the festivities, making it very clear that the more damage they do, the more money they get. But they go even further than that, bringing in hired mercenaries from around the world to pose as local gangs. Armed with heavy weaponry, the mercs go to the most populated locations and wipe everyone out. The plan is to show that people in poor communities want to kill one another and thus making the purge needed for America to succeed, but what the NFFA doesn’t count on is the locals fighting back.
The Purge films have never been one to take a subtle approach, but with The First Purge even the slightest hints of subtlety are thrown out the door. This film is directly commenting on the Trump administration and their
Nazi alt-right supporters. There is a moment in the film where the main villain, played by a wonderful Patch Darragh, explicitly says that the country is overpopulated and the poor need to be killed off. In another scene, a man wearing baby pipes out of sewer and sexually assaults the film’s heroine, Lex Scott Davis, and after she kicks him she runs away shouting “pussy-grabbing motherfucker.”
The movie features a stellar cast that is predominantly people of color. The aforementioned Davis does a great job as the lead activist fighting against the purge that gets stuck in the middle trying to protect her little brother (Joivan Wade). Y’lan Noel plays an anti-hero of sorts, in that he’s a drug dealer so he plays a part in harming his community, but then when the madness begins he’s the one that rises up to protect them. It’s a bit of a conflicted character, but Noel is charming enough to make it work and he’s got the chops to carry action sequences with the best of them.
The film’s heavy handiness does get in the way at times, resulting in a few stumbles throughout. Marisa Tomei, always a pleasure to see, plays a character that is mostly pointless. She is the doctor behind the idea of the purge and it is her belief that when given the opportunity to violently attack one another with no repercussions that poor people, particularly those that are people of color, will happily jump at the idea. She’s shocked to learn that these people aren’t the filthy animals that the NFFA wants to think they are. She is just as equally shocked to learn that the NFFA has hired killers on the inside to start a race war. She’s a pointless character.
The mercenaries, while obviously serving a point, could have been handled in a better way. Mercenaries don’t have a stake one way or another, they’re hired to kill and will kill anyone as long as they are paid. They could have been paid to kill the NFFA and would have been just as happy. A more interesting approach would have been to import civilian Americans from other parts of the country and place them in Staten Island as the hired killers. This is touched on a bit with the offering a money to locals to participate, but they could have made a bigger political statement by introducing a local militia or something similar that travels to Staten Island specifically to kill.
The First Purge has a clear point it wants to get across and has no problems shoving that message to the forefront. While it works at times, it ultimately prevents the film from being great. There isn’t much depth or character development. The film actually features a number of stereotypes that work purely because the actors playing the roles make them work. With that being said, the film is still a fun ride. It’s incredibly violent and full of over-the-top action. Plus there are more of the signature masks that have become a franchise staple, including a teeth one that is creepy as hell. If you’ve enjoyed the series up to this point, you’ll likely enjoy this one too.
Oh, and bonus points for the new Halloween poster popping up in a few scenes.
The Blu-ray contains one deleted scene that is about 90 seconds long. While it’s a fine scene, deleting it was the right call. Interestingly enough, the deleted clears up one goof present in the film, however, had it been left it in would’ve created another goof. It appears they chose the lesser of two goofs.
A Radical Experiment & Bringing Chaos
These are two separate features that could have been combined in one. Both are behind-the-scenes footage of the cast and crew talking about how the film reflects the current political climate in America while also touching a bit more on how this film goes a little bigger than the rest of the franchise. Jason Blum features heavily on these.
The Masks of The First Purge
The best, and sadly shortest, bonus feature gives us a glimpse as the masks from the film and their origins. Be sure to check out our exclusive look at this featurette.
The First Purge is now available on Blu-ray.