The First Purge - This Sequel Turned Prequel Movie Rocks
Dir: Gerard McMurray
Starring Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Mugga, Marisa Tomei, Patch Darragh
Fourth movie, First Purge, which means yes, this is a prequel to the Blumhouse series which always entertains with its edgy mix of modern urban horror, political commentary and satire. Here we’re back to where and when the whole “experiment” began, piloted by the New Founding Fathers Of America (NFFA), the NRA-backed (naturally) replacement for the Democrats and the Republicans. The 12 hours over night in which crime ceases to be a criminal act has yet to go nationwide, and here is consigned to the projects-heavy Staten Island, so where the series has previously focused primarily on a combination of rich entitled whites (Ethan Hawke in the first) and disaffected working class whites (Frank Grillo in the second and third), now we are very firmly in a black neighbourhood. And it turns out the NFFA don’t just want to see if there’s an appetite for such lawless mayhem – they want to use it as a new form of (off the books and under the radar) ethnic cleansing.
McMurray takes over directing chores from series regular and creator (and still the writer here) James DeMonaco, and delivers an effective, tight little B-movie that – initially - owes much to Walter Hill’s The Warriors and early John Carpenter.
The central characters may not scream originality – the drug kingpin with a battlefield past, the defiant young woman out to save her neighbourhood, her young brother about to be lost to a life of dealing, and Mugga – who is basically channelling Whoopi Goldberg, which is annoying, although by the time she is violently stabling a merc in the neck, the audience we saw it with were cheering her on! (Not sure if they were digging the satire at that point.)
There’s a decent Trump joke (there had to be!) and some solid (if fairly basic) social commentary. But in the film’s third act, The First Purge unexpectedly becomes a very different movie, one that is markedly outside of what we have seen before in the series. Noel’s local drug lord with special ops history Dimitri, suddenly decides to tool up and singlehandedly take down the secret merc militia the NFFA has sent on to the island. Without warning, he becomes a ninja Terminator, paying homage to Bruce Willis’ old vest to boot. Yippee ki-yay, indeed. It remains fun, and works in its own excessive way, but it’s not The Purge we have come to know.
There’s every possibility this is being used as a backdoor pilot for the imminent Purge TV series – time will tell. But whilst it’s by no means the strongest of the series, and this shift in tone does detract, the fourth Purge still has enough energy in there to merit a look.
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