The First Purge (2018) Review

Do we really need another Purge movie? Writer-director James DeMonaco has already done a good job concluded the franchise in The Purge: Election Year two years ago. Besides, it was a satisfying and fitting finale that I see no other reason for the franchise to continue further.

So, what did they do?  They gave us a prequel instead. An origin movie about how the Purge was first initiated by the New Founding Fathers Of America (NFFA). The prequel also introduced three principal characters that caught in the first Purge experiment conducted in Staten Island where all crimes are legal within 12 hours. This includes the drug dealer Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), Dmitri’s ex-girlfriend and anti-Purge protestor Nya (Lex Scott Davis) as well as her younger brother, Isiah (Joivan Wade).

Not surprisingly, The First Purge offers more-of-the-same “surviving the night” premise that we come to expect from this franchise. James DeMonaco is once again responsible for the screenplay, peppering the prequel with yet another timely issues of white supremacy, racism and poverty on the current Trump administration in a broad manner.

Only this time, the direction is handed over to Gerard McMurray. This also marks the first time ever that The Purge franchise isn’t directed by DeMonaco himself. Here is how I would describe McMurray’s direction after seeing the movie: uneven. I was particularly annoyed with the way he relies too much on cheap jump scares every now and then. Most of the action set pieces are incoherent and even make things worst with Anastas N. Michos’ dimly-lit cinematography.

But on the other hand, McMurray’s direction has its few moments. He does a decent job conveying DeMonaco’s in-your-face criticism of today’s sociopolitical climate in the US. He even manages to provide ample rooms for some of his characters — particularly Y’lan Noel and Lex Scott Davis — to shine with their roles. It’s just too bad that he fails to make good use of Marisa Tomei in her severely underused role as the architect of the Purge experiment, Dr Updale.

While the action is mostly a letdown earlier on, McMurray somehow redeems himself with The Raid-like finale where Y’lan Noel’s Dmitri suddenly becomes a one-man fighting machine reminiscent of the ’80s Schwarzenegger and Stallone era. I admit it does feel like a desperate attempt to juice up this otherwise run-of-the-mill movie. It’s definitely odd and McMurray even shot the final third-act like he’s making a stylish blaxploitation action movie all of the sudden. And yet, this is the only time I find the director makes thing right in the action department.

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