The First Purge (2018)

Released: July 4, 2018. Directed by: Gerard McMurray. Starring: Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade. Runtime: 1h 38 min.

I remember when I first heard about The Purge. I was excited because of its concept – but it ended up being disappointing. I thought its sequels (2014’s The Purge: Anarchy, 2016’s The Purge: Election Year) were stronger and added to the universe.

Now, we get a boring prequel with The First Purge, that shows the events of the very first Purge. The 12 hours of everything being legal implemented by the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) and it’s the 12 hours of all crime being legalized is pitched as a psychological device to let Americans unleash their anger. It’s supposed to save the country, thought up by Marisa Tomei’s Dr. Updale (Tomei’s the film’s only household name and she’s fine, but isn’t heavily involved in the action).

The first experiment takes place on Staten Island and the government offers $5,000 to simply stay on the island on Purge Night. It’s a payday many just can’t pass up. Other incentive offered is a bigger payday for all the crimes you commit. Want to kill a lot of people? Then, wear special contact lenses that videotape your night and you’ll have a nice payday if you survive.

A lot of this film doesn’t work because we know the Purge’s purpose – combatting overpopulation and thinning out the herd, especially those on welfare so the government doesn’t have to take care of them. It’s uninteresting when they repeat the politics, and since they have to establish the new characters, it takes 25-30 minutes to get to any action.

The main characters are Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and her brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade), who live in a low-income apartment building on Staten Island. They have a good chemistry but they’re not memorable.

Her ex-boyfriend Dimitri (Y’Lan Noel, TV’s Insecure) is a drug kingpin who’s trying to protect his business from competing drugl ords who would use the Purge as an opportunity to take him out. He’s also protecting the citizens since the government wants to take out Staten Island’s black population. Dimitri’s a highlight who can be threatening but also sweet when it comes to Nya.

The First Purge in the review

Lex Scott Davis and Joivan Wade in The First Purge. (IMDb)

He’s heroic and has a likable charisma for a drug kingpin, and has a good presence in the action scenes. Noel has the most presence of the main cast in general. He is a reason the film feels more like an action movie than a horror film this go around, as some it’s more akin to The Raid: Redemption than a Purge movie.

It still maintains its jump scares, but these are stupid. The franchise has evolved a lot from its original conception of home invasion horror and commentary on human nature to this boring affair. It’s also bogged down by its commentary on American extremism – featuring characters dressed as KKK members and Nazis.

The franchise has never been subtle but its subtext feels really in your face this time, especially one of its main references to Donald Trump – a Purger that hangs out in the sewers that traps Nya and grabs her by the pussy. If the action isn’t a clear enough reference, she then runs away calling him a “pussy grabbing motherf–.”

Also problematic are the film’s villains. The masks are toned down this time, but because of the Purgers’ lack of creativity. The Staten Island purgers are boring – but perhaps this is because in The Purge the participants had eight years to perfect their killing style.

The more creative Purgers are silly, from a pair of old women, accompanied by the Dazz Band’s “Let It Whip” whenever they’re on screen, who rig stuffed animals with explosives, to the film’s main antagonist Skeletor (Rotimi Paul). He’s a junkie and a psychopath who seems to be the only one who really wants to purge.

He’s over the top in every sense of the word, spitting all over the place as he talks. He’s totally crazy and Paul goes completely into the role. The character’s dumb– just because of his over-the-top nature – but he’s also the most memorable villain since Rhys Wakefield’s Polite Leader of the original film. Skeletor just might be the only thing I remember about this bad prequel.

Score: 40/100

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The Purge: Election Year (2016)

Directed by: James DeMonaco. Starring: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson. Runtime: 1h, 45 min. Release date: July 1, 2016.

As the U.S. Election just wrapped up the other day, I thought it would be fitting to post a review of “The Purge: Election Year”. I wrote this review back in August and did not post it, so I had to edit the end bit of the review about Donald Trump ever-so-slightly. 

“The Purge” franchise keeps getting better with each film. Perhaps writer-director James DeMonaco designed it that way – debuting the franchise with a disappointing original that executed its concept poorly, with a huge focus on politics. The one-house setting with a focus on one family was restricting and damning.Now DeMonaco has a formula set where the politics are briefly recapped and then gets right to the carnage. “Election Year” suggests he’s now realized the franchise’s fullest potential, delivering the most focused tale yet.

It’s Election year in 2025 in a very different America, where all crime is legal for 12 hours on a night a year in the Annual Purge, a holiday (for some) introduced by the New Founding Fathers of America to let Americans unleash anger and cleanse their souls, which also reduced crime rates.

It was also a way for the government to put more money in their pockets by thinning the herd and letting the rich kill America’s lowest classes who can’t protect themselves – meaning the government saves money because there are less people on welfare.

Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is a voice for those impoverished, running for president to abolish the Purge, largely because her entire family was killed in 2007’s Purge Night in a darkly amusing scene.

The NFFA fears she’s gaining ground in the race against their candidate Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor), so they use Purge Night for some “spring cleaning” to take out their enemies, specifically the Senator. To do so, they take away the protection of Level 10+ government officials, so it’s now perfectly legal to kill them.

On the politics side, learning more about the New Founding Fathers is intriguing. The Washington, D.C. setting is opportune for more characterization, and they’re like nutty people blindly following a crazy cult leader.

Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge), the only actor appear in all three films, has taken over the role of Michael K. Williams’ Carmelo Johns as NFFA’s main oppressor. Frank Grillo returns as Leo Barnes, the head of the Senator’s security detail and her main hope of survival through the Purge. His ability in combat supersedes the character himself, as he’s a badass protector with little depth. Mitchell is great as the Senator, though her morals get in the way of certain events which gets irritating.

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Mykelti Williamson, Frank Grillo, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel and Elizabeth Mitchell in The Purge: Election Year(Source)

New low-class characters include Joe (Mykelti Williamson), a deli owner who has to protecting his deli himself after his insurance company raises prices on Purge night. Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel) is a new character who drives around on Purge night helping those who can’t protect themselves. It’s noble and one of the film’s best concepts.

“Election Year” has horror in its veins thanks to creepy masks and many jump scares. It’s also scary for the low-class citizens who can’t defend themselves on Purge night. The great action and violence from “The Purge: Anarchy” is prominent, and the action sequences are fresh enough to satisfy fans of the franchise and newbies alike. The deaths are cool, especially one by guillotine. The characters are also some of the best yet, in terms of heroes.

The NFFA are cool villains, despite their baffling beliefs. There are neo-Nazi mercenaries who are good, but the main baddie, Earl Danzinger (Terry Serpico), is merely a menacing caricature. That’s what all the villains in “Election Year” feel like – caricatures of the bat-shit craziness of the America portrayed, just bloodthirsty animals wanting to purge.

A main villain, a bratty rich girl named Kimmy (Brittany Mirabile) with two puffs on her hair and a bedazzled rifle, is over-the-top and deliriously annoying – and her motivation is looting for a chocolate bar that Joe wouldn’t let her steal. She’s written in such a way that makes you impatient for her to die.

The characterization of the villains makes me believe the Polite Stranger from the 2013 original won’t be bested. The chilling performance by Rhys Wakefield made him one of the most memorable aspects. DeMonaco’s screenplay is still very good, but his villains have become forgettable.

There was an opportunity to create strong villains with murder tourists, who come from different countries to experience the Purge. Their scene is stylish and frightening. They could have been great – as they’re so prominent in marketing, decked out in patriotic masks of Presidents and the Statue of Liberty. Their potential was squandered when they started babbling about their love of America, and how they really want to kill people.

They were a disappointment, plus, they have the wrong idea: If the Purge ever became real, and it feels like it could with Trump as President, they should leave America on Purge night, not go to it.

Score: 80 out of 100

(This review originally appeared on the Movie Buff.)