Of all the modern horror franchises The Purge has been one of the most progressive when it comes to tackling issues of race and class in America. While subtly has never been this franchise’s strength, the most chilling thing about these films is that they are rooted in ideologies visible in the world we live in today.
Taking over the directing duties from the franchise creator James DeMonaco, who wrote the script, Gerard McMurray’s entry into the world of The Purge is the best one yet. The First Purge takes us back to where it all started. After yet another recession, and tired of a two-party system, the American public elect a third political party, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA), into power. Claiming to understand the anger and frustration that has taken hold of a nation, the NFFA institute a new experiment based on the research of Dr. Updale (Marisa Tomei) that will help to relieve the mounting tension. For 12 hours citizens will be able to do what they want free of criminal ramifications.
Choosing Staten Island as its testing ground, the government does not make if mandatory for residents to stay during the experiment dubbed The Purge; but offers a $5,000 incentive for those who do. There is even more money to be made for those who actively participate. While the government promotes the necessity of such a test, those in the community, such as drug kingpin Dmitri (Y’lan Noel) and activist (Lex Scott Davis) and her brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade), cannot help but question if the government has ulterior motives for pushing forward with this trial.
The First Purge may follow the format of its predecessors, as those who want nothing to do with the event find themselves fighting for their lives within the middle it, but its layered political commentary sets this installment above the rest. Perfectly attuned for the Trump era of American politics, McMurray peppers the film with several indicators of how the United States got to the volatile predicament it is in now. Everything from the Ku Klux Klan to black face to subsidized housing is referenced in the film.
In showing how governments prey on the poor and disenfranchised, treating them like they are inherent savages, and having a drug dealer of all people be the anti-hero of the film, Mc Murray makes a powerful statement of just how much America has lost its way. The deaths are less elaborate than previous films, the fact the film makes unchecked governmental power even more chilling than the crazed addict Skeletor (Rotimi Paul) tells you all you need to know about the dire state America is in.
While the best film to date in The Purge franchise, The First Purge’s special features on the Blu-ray are a little disappointing. While the A Radical Experiment featurette offers some insight into how the cast approached the material, the other two features are missed opportunities. Both Bringing the Chaos and The Masks of The First Purge are far too brief looks of the action and uses of masks respectively in the film. The latter, in particular, could have benefitted from a deeper dive into the symbolism behind some of the masks and the ways they have been conveyed throughout history.
Despite the underwhelming special features, The First Purge is a worthy addition to a franchise that keeps getting better with each film.
A Radical Experiment
Bring the Chaos
The Masks of The First Purge