What would you do if any crime was legal for one night every year? This is the thrilling concept explored by The Purge, The Purge: Election Year and The Purge: Anarchy. The First Purge, a prequel to this series, explores the origins of this gruesome annual tradition.
In 2014, the USA is on the brink of total economic collapse with unemployment rising to an all-time high. The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) rise as a third political party, challenging the American two-tier system and ultimately take full control of the state. Officially, ‘purging’ is meant to act as a form of catharsis, cleansing one’s soul in releasing anger and thus lowering crime rates for the rest of the year.
The first Purge takes place in 2017 as a social experiment on the isolated New York City borough of Staten Island, mainly inhabited by ethnic minorities and lower-class citizens. Potential participants are lured in with a $5000 reward for staying at home and further bonuses for engaging in the violence. They are injected with tracking devices and contact lenses transmit what they see to the monitoring headquarters.
Just like in the other Purge movies, there is a new set of protagonists: anti-Purge demonstrator Nya (Lex Scott Davis), her younger brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade) and Nya’s ex-boyfriend Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), a drug dealer. However, there are other characters who come across as generic and only to appear to serve a certain purpose. For example, Skeletor (Rotimi Paul) is a rage-filled psychopath who provides the audience with gratuitous violence and confusing killing scenes. Similarly, Dolores (Mugga) is only there to provide some comic relief by cracking jokes.
When the Purge does not kick off as planned (with only a few segregated murders around the island and people partying instead) the government sends in mercenaries to stir things up. It is from that point onwards that The First Purge turns into the movie many were expecting from the start. Fans of the Purge series will appreciate the spine-chilling action scenes and occasional jump scares. The movie also utilises lighting well in the final showdown to draw in the audience.
The movie features a predominantly black cast and can be seen as a social commentary of contemporary problems in the States. From white police officers beating up black civilians to members of the Ku Klux Klan roaming the streets, the movie paints the Purge as a smokescreen for racial violence. It would have been nice to have a bit more backstory to the rise of the NFFA and how the idea of purging came about in the first place.
The movie clearly explores the important issue of racial conflict in the US, and even satirically mocks Trump by referring to the infamous 2005 Access Hollywood tape, when Nya calls a masked man who grabs her crotch a “pussy-grabbing motherfucker”. The question remains whether this movie tries to push its political message too hard at the expense of the plot but it remains a must-see for fans of the Purge franchise.