Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Review: The First Purge

The First Purge
Cert: 15 / 97 mins / Dir. Gerard McMurray / Trailer

Five years ago, the fundamental idea behind social-political horror film The Purge seemed unrealistic, unworkable and frankly just a little bit unnecessary. Anyway, welcome to 2018.

* looks at camera *

For this next entry in the saga, we spool back to the annual resentment-festival's origins. With a downcast and restless American public having elected a far-right nationalist president and party into power (quiet at the back), a scheme is formed by the authorities to let its citizens 'purge' their anger for twelve hours, free from the restraints of law and order, and able to carry out whatever crimes they wish. The pilot for this is to be held on New York's Staten Island, coincidentally the location of many low-income housing projects. With financial incentives for residents to 'actively participate' in the experiment, it quickly becomes apparent to locals choosing to stay peacefully on the island that things are even worse than they appear…

So. From the outset, the audience knows exactly what they're going to get here - after all, we've had plenty of practice by now. This may be the fourth film in the series, but it feels like it could be someone's first screenplay. The central ideas of angst and misguided vigilanteism are as bold and upfront as you'd expect from a Purge movie, and subtext has nowhere to hide when pretty much every speaking character constantly explains everything that's happening, both on- and off-camera. And while the thread of 'people who should have stayed indoors during The Purge find themselves outside during The Purge' is played out convincingly enough, the film just seems to reach its countdown-conclusion and then end, rather than actually resolving its own character issues or aftermath.

I'm not sure what's more cynical - the nihilistic excesses of urban violence in The First Purge, or Blumhouse's apparent willingness to exploit social tensions in their bid to monetise them on a global stage. Again.

But the cast are committed to their roles, which means a lot for a flick like this (although while Marisa Tomei resists the urge to go full pantomime as the sociologist architect of the Purge, she still feels very miscast*1). While we're not quite at a level of 'protagonists you can believe in', we at least get players you don't mind believing in. Which - again - is what really sells the movie. The film avoids the regular Blumhouse trap of quiet-quiet-BANG by building up to Batshit Crazy™, then just staying there until the final klaxon sounds at sunrise.

The story this time is more about the good guys trying to survive than the bad guys hunting them. There are fewer shades of grey than before, but this makes for a much neater ride. Whereas previous entries in the series have revolved largely around the study of white-privilege and entitlement, The First Purge is more about socio-political manipulation (by the archetypal white-privileged elite, but still).

And scripting gripes aside, there's some outstanding camera, lighting and soundtrack work here, especially in the climactic third-act. It gets a little Die Hard / John Wick, but is no less enjoyable for that.

Better than the fourth movie in a horror franchise has any real right to be but still creaking in all the wrong places, I wouldn't go so far as calling The First Purge a great film, although it's certainly a strong and satisfying addition to the family…

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Purge, The Belko Experiment

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
With an enthusiastic crowd, yes it is.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It'll be one to keep on the shelf for when the mood takes you.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Can't really say, I'm afraid.
I mean it's certainly not Marisa Tomei's best work, put it that way

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
I doubt it.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Didn't hear one.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: That mudtrooper from off of Mimban is in this. You know the one.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 And speaking of the control-room white guys, one of my favourite things about the film is the idea of casting directors Sarah Domeier and Terri Taylor phoning around agents going "Mate. Doing a Purge film and I'm looking for someone who'll remind the audience of a fat David Cameron, what have you got?" [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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