#REVIEW: “THE FIRST PURGE”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
The First Purge (but fourth Film in the series) takes us back to a time when “The Purge” was just a social experiment. The U.S. government sets Staten Island as the test site and then incentivizes the impoverished and low-income citizens with money to stay during the event – and offer even more if they actually participate.
As an idea alone, The First Purge is a thought-provoking, satirical analysis of a frightening notion that is no longer as outlandish as it first sounded back in 2013. Series Writer James DeMonaco ups the political elements here substantially, while also elaborating on ideas from the past. The characters’ dialogue, motivations and actions are just as ridiculous as ever, but many scenes hit harder than they should given the current political landscape. DeMonaco puts even stronger emphasis on race – making the Film feel timelier than ever – focusing almost entirely on people of colour and their fight for survival. He even takes a few jabs at social media and millennial culture, all while dropping hints at the direction of the upcoming Purge TV show.
But despite these positive elements, DeMonaco and new Director Gerard McMurray practically strip away much of what made the first three films enjoyable. There is nothing inventive on display here and nothing that even pretends to be clever. The jokes are lame, the scares are surprisingly minimal, and the majority of death scenes are uninspired. What little suspense it creates is deflated by excessive talking and explanations we already understand. If that were not enough, The First Purge completely jumps off the rails during its Third Act, trading talking and stabbing for a riff on Die Hard and The Raid. These Action moments are shot quite effectively, but they come far too late and only succeed in making the Film feel schizophrenic.
And while I can pretend the inexplicable cut to black in the middle of the Film was unintentional, I cannot look past the egregious waste of almost every character. Marisa Tomei is an important figure in the story, but she looks and acts bored. We are supposed to be invested in the characters played by the likes of Y’Lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis and Joivan Wade, but the Film makes none of these characters compelling or likeable – leaving the audience struggling to care about any of their fates. The Film’s only interesting character, Rotimi Paul’s deliriously-villainous Skeletor, is absolutely terrific and does a great job propelling the Film’s agenda and undertones forward. But he completely disappears for long swaths of time, making you forget he even exists all too often.
Much like the previous films in the Series, The First Purge is a great idea on paper that is sloppy in its execution. But where those films still succeeded in being interesting, this Prequel lacks any sense of invention, cleverness or scares. And while the Action-Thriller moments are amusing enough, the time you spend getting there is mundane and ordinary. The First Purge desperately wants to be fun, but it lacks the required resources to actually pull it off.
Universal Pictures Canada release THE FIRST PURGE on Wednesday, July 4, 2018.