There are two ways to keep movie franchises alive: milking the cow until it dies or trying something new to give the series a fresh start.
The First Purge (AKA The Purge: Island) was marketed as the latter, as a way to revitalise a horror franchise that is as solid financially as it is disappointing from a cinematic point of view. Because of that, I went into this movie mildly hopeful it was going to be better than the previous instalments.
And sure, The First Purge is different from its predecessors in the first 3-4 minutes, when we witness America’s third political party, the New Founding Fathers of America, coming to power and conducting an experiment: no laws for 12 hours on Staten Island. No one has to stay on the island, but $5,000 is given to anyone who does. The FFoA are also led by an unconvincingly evil Marisa Tomei – who probably agreed on being in this flick to send some relative to college.
These first few minutes are also filled with real footage of protests that occurred after Trump became President of the United States and are clearly there to cash-in on the ‘progressive and liberal’ campaign against Donald Trump himself. Don’t get me wrong, I despise Trump even if I don’t live in America, I think he’s a disgrace for the world as much as Berlusconi (my country’s former Prime Minister) was. Nevertheless, you really need to be daft to think that this movie is good only because it not-so-subtly criticises a politician you don’t like.
In fact, after the very beginning, The First Purge – which is also a confusing title, since this is the fourth instalment in The Purge franchise – basically becomes the same movie as the previous three instalments. We follow a bunch of African American people, led by drug dealer Dmitri, as they try to survive the night while others are on a killing spree.
This is a movie where you don’t care for any of the characters, since there’s no depth to any of them. Besides, how stupid is it to make your protagonist a drug dealer? How are you supposed to root for a guy who traffics in crack and deadly weapons? At the same time, the ‘bad guys’ are basically cartoon characters who spit out one-liners recycled from other scripts.
There isn’t a single line of dialogue that is even remotely interesting, there isn’t a single killing or action scene that stands out. As a result, The First Purge is one of the most boring movies I’ve seen in theatres the whole year. Don’t get me wrong though, if you liked the previous Purge movies, I don’t think you will dislike this one either.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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Judging movies on their own merit – instead of based on the political/social agenda they try to push, as many viewers and critics do nowadays – in my opinion The First Purge is the weakest of the bunch: the first one was stupid but had novelty, whereas the second and third ones were kind of dull but had a great hero in Frank Grillo, a badass character that had some depth and did his own stunts.
On the contrary, The First Purge feels already old, has no interesting characters whatsoever, is filled with shaky-cam action sequences and, worst of all, it’s extremely lazy in every aspect: the stock music utilised in the movie is boring and unimaginative; the jump-scares are always fake and unwarranted; the plot is paper-thin and doesn’t make any sense; the characters have the upper hand on their opponent but they keep fucking it up because otherwise this flick would run for 34 minutes.
Oh, and did I mention the CGI fire and blood? The First Purge was made on a $13,000,000 estimated budget and yet the filmmakers relied on cheap computer-generated fire, blood and explosions? You need to know that, for every movie I review, I take into account the budget at the filmmakers’ disposal and the people involved in the project: in other words, if this was an indie horror film made on a $5,000 budget I’d definitely be less harsh on many aspects.
However, that’s not the case: there’s no excuse for this boring-ass movie to be so flawed and lazy. Even if you’re a fan of this franchise, you must admit these movies only work on a cheap, mindless entertainment level. The First Purge even fails to deliver in this respect, in my opinion.
Also, what bugs me about this all series is the wasted potential: The Purge could either work as a smart, political commentary or as a dumb sort of slasher flick with loads of brutal killings. However, this series is stuck in between those two sub-genres, which makes it fail at both. The Purge movies are too busy being inoffensive and to appeal to masses to bring anything interesting to the table.
Despite all of that, there are things to appreciate about this flick. First and foremost, Gerard McMurray – the director – does a very good job with the poor material he had to work with. He previously directed (masterfully, I’d say) the vastly underrated drama Fruitvale Station and, here, he’s able to present the movie in a neat and pleasant way. Every shot is framed to the most minute detail and cinematography is really gorgeous at times. Too bad the script sucks!
Yet, the actor who plays Dmitri (Y’Lan Noel) gives a believable performance, despite his character being hallow as hell. Ultimately, the masked villains – albeit as flat as a surfing board – have a rather menacing appearance to them.
In the end, The First Purge is another big disappointment in a series that should have died already. There are a few good features here and there, but the movie as a whole is instantly forgettable and very boring. Again, if you liked the first three flicks in the series, you might enjoy this one. If you haven’t seen it yet but you really want to, I suggest you wait until you can rent the movie, since it’s not worth your money in the theatre and God knows I don’t want a fifth instalment in this train-wreck of a franchise.
The First Purge 3.5/10