Some movies use subtly to illustrate a moral through metaphors, refined symbols, and clever tools. Other movies hit you with a sledgehammer until the moral is ingrained permanently in your skull. The First Purge is definitely a part of the latter.
The First Purge, the prequel to the franchise, shows the first time this experiment occurred. For those of you not in the know, the Purge is an attempt to let people unleash their negative emotions and thoughts by allowing them to commit any crime without consequence for 24 hours. Some say this could benefit society, allowing American citizens to purge their anger and frustration with the world. Others say it’s a ploy for the powerful elite to take advantage of their sociopathic tendencies. Either way, it’s a silly concept that can lead to cinematic fun.
The First Purge takes place on Staten Island, before The Purge. For their test run, the experiment lasts 12 hours, instead of 24; I think this was done so the filming could be done mostly at night when it’s difficult to see what’s happening. In this version, the New Yorkers have the choice to stay on the island, or leave for safe haven. There is an incentive to stay: the organizers of the purge (mostly rich white elites) are paying those who stay behind. They will pay more to those who engage in the festivities. Very quickly, you will notice that the vast majority of the purgers are people of colour. Are you beginning to see how subtle the movie is going to be? They are not attempting to hide it.
Those who stay behind either find a place to stay alive, commit petty crimes, or meet up for unregistered block parties. Apparently, this offends the organizers of the purge. They are hoping the poor would dish out the violence, murdering each other in cold blood. Unhappy that the experiment is turning out to be an absolute failure, they resort to the final solution. They send in gangs of hate groups, consisting of the KKK, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis into the fray to “cleanse” the island, giving validity to the failed experiment. Subtle.
What happens next is a series of boring escape scenes, poorly lit action, and dialogue that is not even cheesy to be enjoyable. There were a couple of chuckles, and maybe one memorable action scene, but for the most part, it’s nothing special. The protagonists are not blatant one-dimensional stereotypes. This was a refreshing take on the genre. The villains are as subtle as a white supremacist.
The First Purge is as subtle as my description. It does not shy away with it’s heavy-handedness. The villains, these monstrous hate groups, do exist in real life, and they are not afraid show their face. There is nothing wrong with that decision. It’s relatable, and happening today. My biggest question leaving the film is whether I should take this movie seriously. Is it trying to be a pivotal piece about society today, or is it an over-the-top exploitation? We can all agree that hate-groups are awful, and watching these nameless and soulless creatures of the night suffer is cathartic. Unfortunately, I didn’t leave the movie with anything to think except what genre does it fall into?
In the end, I’d avoid The First Purge. It has one exciting action scene, but for the most part, it’s quite boring, even with the lack of subtlety. If you’re a fan of the series, I’d wait until it comes on Netflix; otherwise, watch something else in theaters.