The First Purge *** / *****
Directed by: Gerard McMurray.
Written by: James DeMonaco.
Starring: Y'lan Noel (Dmitri), Lex Scott Davis (Nya), Joivan Wade (Isaiah), Mugga (Dolores), Patch Darragh (Arlo Sabian), Marisa Tomei (Dr. May Updale), Luna Lauren Velez (Luisa), Kristen Solis (Selina), Rotimi Paul (Skeletor), Mo McRae (7 & 7), Jermel Howard (Lorenzo), Siya (Blaise), Christian Robinson (Capital A), Steve Harris (Freddy), Derek Basco (Taz), D.K. Bowser (Sharpie), Mitchell Edwards (Kels), Maria Rivera (Anna), Chyna Layne (Elsa), Ian Blackman (President Bracken).
The movie is a prequel, flashing back to the rise of the New Founding Fathers of America, a political party that grew out of dissatisfaction with Democrats and Republicans (something that seems increasingly plausible). Their new idea – of 12 hours with no laws – will be tested this night, in Staten Island only. Anyone who stays will get $5,000 – and if they participate, they’ll get even more. This is all the brainchild of Dr. May Updale (Marisa Tomei) – who thinks this will be healthy. The NFFA want to use it as a way to thin the herd.
Basically the film concentrates on Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), the local drug kingpin and his ex-girlfriend Nya (Lex Scott Davis), a local activist. They both grew up in the poverty of Staten Island, but have taken increasingly divergent paths. When the night starts, all Dmitri wants to do is lock down his crew, survive the night with his money, stash and territory intact. Nya wants to help protect those staying – including her younger brother, Isaiah (Joivan Wade). Both will see their best laid plans go awry – and Dmitri will eventually rediscover his humanity – and how much he cares about this community.
Like the other three Purge movies, The First Purge is effective mostly as a blunt instrument used to beat you over the head. There is nothing subtle about the film, or its politics – it rubs your face in them pretty much from the start. The film does have a little more exposition than the other films off the top, and takes a while to really get going. There are some scares early on Purge night – mostly involving Isaiah as he wanders the streets (and a crack house) with glowing eyes. The last third is much more of an action movie than a horror movie however – and a skillfully done one for the most part.