The First Purge is about exactly what you think it’s about: the first purge ever. The purge, of course, being a government issued law stating that for one day a year, all crime throughout America is legal. However, it didn’t start as something that occurred all over the United States. It started as an experiment on Long Island, headed by Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh) and Dr. Updale (Marisa Tomei). The two oversaw the experiment and watched as the night played out and when the plan didn’t go accordingly, Sabian and government put the night in their owns hands.
In the middle of this experimental Purge is Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), a big time drug dealer who grew up in Long Island and has a mixed reputation amongst the community, his former girlfriend, Nya (Lex Scott Davis), an anti-Purge activist who has a distain for Dmitri, and Nya’s brother, Isaiah (Joivan Wade), a seller for Dmitri who wants purge for his own vengeful reasons. Each one has a different plan for the Purge, but when the night begins to get chaotic, they stop being observers and try to become survivors.
My issues with the film stem from film series as a whole. The series offers up a very interesting question: what would you do if crime was legal for a day? This is a brilliant question and one that could go hundreds of different ways, and the films scratch the surface of this questions possibilities, yet none of these movies fully commit to its ideas, which is genuinely confusing and frustrating. What are these movies really about? What is the point of them and what are the trying to say? Are they movies about the inherent evil of man? Are they about the struggle to be good in the face of evil? Are the social commentaries about how the government treats the lower class? Are they about humans succumbing to evil? Are they set in a hyper-reality where all people want to do is kill and not rob a bank or steal a car? Or are they just schlocky B-movies focused on violence and mayhem that I’m over-analyzing? All of this is touched upon throughout the series, yet it is never the focus. There is an inherently good idea here and instead of taking the time and fleshing it out, they just mass-produce these films because they turn a quick profit. Shame.
One thing that the Purge franchise has not done well has been it’s characters, which is something that transitions into this film. The development of the characters is always really thin and you never really care if they die or not. The first film gave us a family that I absolutely despised and wish had died, and the second and third film had Frank Grillo’s Leo, which is easily the best character in the entire franchise, and a whole bunch of forgettable characters surrounding him. Dmitri, Nya, and Isaiah are all flat, boring characters. They help move the film along, but that was their only purpose. Dmitri is such a bizarre character, as he goes from cool drug dealer to a John McClane-like hero at the end who ends up being a masterfully skilled fighter. Again, it fits the story, but that’s it. The performances by the actors are serviceable, but nothing spectacular. The film actually does have one interesting character in the form of a crackhead they call Skeletor (Rotimi Paul). Skeletor is genuinely terrifying and is on the hunt for Isaiah and Nya throughout the film. He’s like a ghetto T-1000, a man who is only worried about killing during the Purge and will murder anyone and everyone who comes near him and refuses to die. A movie about him would have been far more interesting.
Another thing that kills me about the characters in these movies is their lack of awareness during the actual Purge. There are people on these streets who are trying to murder anyone and anything that they can, and yet our characters just clunk around like it’s a regular Tuesday afternoon. They never talk quietly, sometimes even yelling in the streets, giving away their locations, and they always have these life-altering conversations in the streets as well, which forces them to stop walking and hash out their issues as the chaos goes on. Look, everyone has issues, especially on Purge night, but shouldn’t the priority be to get to a safe spot away from the madness? There were times when Nya and Isaiah are being threatened by different purgers and all I kept thinking was, “well, that’s what you get for stopping and yelling at Isaiah about his life choices as a man with a machete roams the streets behind you.”
There isn’t anything that I hated about this movie, but there really isn’t anything I really liked either. Some of the action set pieces are cool, but that’s really it. Aside from the first film, which is a crime against humanity, none of these movies are bad, they’re just incomplete. Until they realize the true possibilities of the Purge franchise and give the film focused themes, this will a franchise that will never be seen as good, but just mediocre thrillers.
Did you see The First Purge? What did you think? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter and Instagram, @kevflix, or on Facebook by searching Kevflix.