Yes! Get in! Finally, the producers over at Platinum Dunes and Blumhouse realised that what fans of the Purge series were wanting was a look at how the night of legalised crime came to be. It’s all we’ve been asking for since 2013 after all.
After three films of decent quality in which the second, Purge: Anarchy is the highlight, The First Purge promises to shake up the formula by introducing a prequel into the horror franchise. But does it do enough to stop the series from feeling stale or are we looking at yet another paint-by-numbers horror flick?
No. That’s the short answer anyway. Director Gerard McMurray falls into all the usual horror movie clichés with a film that is definitely Purge-like in its construction, but once again plays it all frustratingly safe.
To push the crime rate below one percent for the rest of the year, the New Founding Fathers of America test a sociological theory that vents aggression for one night in one isolated New York community. But when the violence of oppressors meets the rage of the others, the contagion will explode from the trial-city borders and spread across the nation.
The cast of characters in this instalment is possibly the most unlikeable of the bunch, apart from a few exceptions. Marisa Tomei is hideously underused as the experiment’s creator, Dr. May Updale, when in fact she should and could be the most interesting part of the movie. The rest of the cast are one-dimensional characters that you could cut and paste into any horror film of the last decade. Y’Ian Noel as Dmitri is probably the only one who leaves any lasting impression.
Subtlety has never been the series’ strong point. One of the leaders of the New Founding Fathers is called Donald T for heaven’s sake, but that was always part of its dark charm. It has never been afraid to show us an America that, for now at least, doesn’t feel that too far into the future but the political side-swiping in this instalment bashes us over the head with what feels like a brick. It’s so on the nose.
The premise has always been the best part, and the Achilles heel, of the series and so it continues with The First Purge. Fans waiting to get a really intricate look at how the night of crime came to be will be disappointed as we’re treated to barely 10 minutes of exposition before we’re slung head-first into the same killing-fest that the last three films descended into after their first acts.
This gets old quickly, even more so in this instalment as the repetitive jump scares come thick and fast with uninspiring camerawork, dreadful dialogue and lethargic kills. The use of contact lenses to create some striking neon visuals aren’t enough to lift anything in the film above average.
Thankfully, the final act in a dimly lit tower block shows the audience the type of film it could have been. Slickly shot and nicely styled, it’s a much-improved finale that is only let down by some truly dreadful CGI blood splatter. However, the use of strobe lighting is an inspired choice in this sequence as we follow two groups of people each trying to dispatch the other.
Unfortunately, this highlight isn’t enough to lift the rest of The First Purge above the mundane. Where the first in the series was a film testing the waters regarding its premise and the second improved on that ten-fold taking the action out onto the streets, this tries to use a hybrid of both but it comes across as stale as a ten day old loaf.
The pacing too is an issue. The first 20 minutes or so are excruciatingly slow as the film tries to set-up as many of its plot-points as possible. Now, 20 minutes might not sound too bad, but this is a 97 minute film – that’s a fifth of the time gone with nothing achieved.
If we must get a fifth film, and from the box-office figures, it bafflingly looks like we will, all we can do is hope they take the cheap jump scares and replace them with a thrilling look at the people who brought the purge to life in the first place. Until then, save your money and wait for the network premiere when it comes to television in a couple of years.
When the best part of your film is the purge announcement that has featured in every instalment, you know you’ve run into some trouble.