The First Purge Review
This 2018 film tries to tie a bow on the major plot point of the series.
Honestly, I’m still a little bit surprised that The First Purge was made.
Since the very first movie, it’s been a bit of a giant question mark over why the Purge started and how it started. Basically, it’s the big plot hole in the series. Because people are aware that most other people aren’t going to run around and start killing each other. At least, not realistically. I didn’t think they would try and take this on because it was going to be a tough one to get over on an audience. People were willing to suspend their disbelief so that they could enjoy watching people get killed in weird ways. But this entire movie was going to be taking on these plot holes. I didn’t have high hopes for this movie. I ended up enjoying the main plot with the main characters. But as far as questions being answered, they weren’t done particularly well. At least not in a satisfying way.
Now, this review is going to have spoilers. I really can’t go into everything that happens without spoiling a lot of the major plot points. So, watch at your own risk if you haven’t seen it. (I rented the movie for $5.99 on Amazon.)
The movie starts two days before the first Purge is set to start on Staten Island. It’s a closed experiment being run by the New Founding Fathers of America. They say that they are running the experiment on Staten Island because of the diversity of the people. That makes sense; you need a fair amount of people to know how this experiment would work with many kinds of people. But it starts to take on a different tone when you realize who we’re following. The main three characters are young black people that live in a poor neighborhood.
Nya is an anti-Purge activist taking care of her little brother in a shitty apartment. Isaiah is the little brother that is constantly trying to get them out of their situation. Dmitri is a drug lord who is protective of his neighborhood.
This aspect of the plot makes it clear that the New Founding Fathers are directly going after poor people of color. Later, the Chief of Staff and the Dr. that made the experiment are arguing. She doesn’t know if he was being honest about the economic toll that poor people are taking on the country. It’s also not much of a coincidence that the neighborhood we end up focusing on so much is primarily black or Latino. There is no hiding the fact that the Purge is very much about the elimination of people of color.
In the first movie, the Purgers are following a homeless black man. In the second movie, we follow people of color trying to stay alive with the help of a white man. In the third movie, we primarily follow white people but they are surrounded by people of color that are trying to stop the Purge. This series has always been about racism and classism. Just much more subtlety in the past than this series.
It makes sense though, because of how the experiment ends up going down. Dr. Updale is a sociologist (I think) that comes up with the idea of the Purge. Her idea is pretty much that it's for the betterment of society, people having the chance to release their anger for a twelve hour period. Mostly so that they can be chilled out and relaxed during the rest of the year. It also has the added benefit of killing poor people, so that they can't be needing help. It's going to alleviate the economy.
It doesn't make a lot of sense in practice. In the first few hours, they realize that they aren't getting the numbers that they thought they would get. People aren't killing each other. They're looting and stealing. Because, of course, if that was going to be legal. I'm not going to pretend that wouldn't be my first action if everything was legal for one night. My first thought isn't killing someone, it's stealing shit.
The Cheif of Staff calls in militia members to take over and start killing people. They're wearing masks, which beforehand wasn't really a thing. One of our primary villains, Skeletor (I wonder who on the He-Man team approved this crossover), doesn't wear a mask but he does have a weird scarring pattern. Which does look kind of cool although I don't know how he ended up with the pebbled scars.
The militia members are blatantly racist. Our first introduction to them is a bunch of guys riding motorcycles with the Iron Cross on a flag. Our second introduction to them is a bunch of guys from the Klu Klux Klan. These guys would probably have been hired to do this for $10. We also watch them leaving a black church after killing almost everyone that was inside.
By the way, the reason that there are even people on Staten Island during the purge is because of the NFFA is paying them $5,000 to stay. If they decide to get involved with the Purge, then they'll get more money. I'm assuming that it's that the more people you kill the more that you'll get out of it. Nya remains on the island for that reason. She thought she sent Isaiah to Brooklyn for the night. But he ended up agreeing to be a part of the experiment. For a while the best way to figure out if people were going to be a part of the Purge was their eyes glowing. The NFFA had given those that had agreed cameras which goes into their eyes. It's kind of weird but also kind of cool.
They didn't keep doing it for that long.
The writer failed to wrap up the reasoning behind the Purge with a bow. Or tell us why it continued. Dr. Updale ends up being killed after she finds out that the Chief of Staff has put mercenaries into the experiment. But everything is being televised, so those that are watching have to be somewhat aware that these people are not just regular people. It also has to be pretty horrifying to see these things happening on television.
She really gets killed because she starts to deem the project a failure. Which, it is. Because the people that were supposed to be Purging, don't. Instead of having this be an actual story about human behavior and desperation; it's a conspiracy. It doesn't really explain why people continued to Purge after that. Is it because they were expected to do it? We know that militias are running around in later Purges. So it doesn't take a reach to figure out why they're doing it. But regular people? It's still a bit baffling. I really didn't like that she started to backtrack on a horrible plan that she had come up with. It was like she had a moment of clarity but she had evidently had this much of a plan that she went as far as to start experimenting. It felt like a cop-out with her character.
I wasn't totally satisfied with the ending of that plot. It still wasn't satisfying and didn't answer all of my questions. I was also wondering why Staten Island and not a more secluded area. Pretty much anyone could just march across the bridge and start purging.
Now the actual storyline of the three main characters is interesting.
Isaiah pretends like he went to Brooklyn but really stayed around so that he could Purge and make more money. This boy doesn't have good ideas. He seemed to have forgotten that he's really lacking a backbone when it comes to violence. It doesn't go well and he ends up asking his sister to save him. So, Nya does.
There's one particular moment where I was really confused and really was there to jab at Trump. Nya is caught by a man that literally just want to grab her vagina. She calls him a 'Pussy grabbing bastard'. It was amusing but a bit heavy handed considering how political this movie already is.
Nya wasn't my favorite character which was surprising. It was Dmitri, which was even more surprising. He's a complex character. Yes; he's a drug lord, he hurts people, and he's not a great person. But I have a hard time saying he's a bad guy. Because he's also looking out for his neighborhood and he seems to want the best for people. He runs a tight ship and there were a lot of interesting moments between him and his gang. He used to date Nya but their background is a little hazy. Regardless, he's willing to do whatever it takes to get back to her.
At first, I thought he was so good at fighting because he had military training. But then I realized that it was another member of his gang that had said something about that. I'm still not entirely sure how he was able to take on a bunch of militia members without much of a problem. But I guess it was primarily so that he could save Nya, Isaiah, and other much more minor characters.
Did this movie succeed in where it wanted to go? Kind of. I wasn't satisfied with the answering of the questions. But I'm also not sure if any answer was going to satisfy me. It was a no-win situation because it's hard to believe that the Purge would be able to go on as long as it did in this Universe. Because that Universe is tied to our own. As mad as I've been at people, I don't think I could kill someone. I don't think most people immediately jump to murder when they have pent up anger.
They usually turn to therapy or an athletic burst.
Was I entertained? Yes, especially with the story of the main three. They had more answers in what was happening than the person that created the Purge. You also really didn't want them to die.
Was it well-done? The writing was done by the same guy that wrote the other three and the television show. But it was directed by someone else, Gerard McMurray. His style is a little less style-based. I liked the way this movie was filmed a lot more than some of the previous series. There were some moments where I was like wow that's really cool.
I recommend this movie. Out of the Purge series, I would say it's the second best. For the record, the list is this; Anarchy, First, Election Year, and the Original.