The First Purge: You lost me at ‘p***y-grabbing motherf**ker’
Review: This mostly silly film is a too-obvious comment on Trump’s America
Film Title: The First Purge
Director: Gerard McMurray
Starring: Y'Lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Luna Lauren Velez, Marisa Tomei, Rotimi Paul, Mugga, Siya
Running Time: 98 min
Writer-director James DeMonaco’s Purge sequence, which debuted in 2013, is set in a universe where the US is now ruled by a fascist regime called the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA). Here, for one night a year, citizens can vent by robbing, murdering, raping and looting without fear of consequence.
Three Purge films on and it’s almost impossible to find an American review of the trilogy that doesn’t employ the phrase “eerily prescient”. The Purge: Election Year (2016) boasted the tagline: Keep America Great.
If you weren’t aware that this new prequel is a commentary on Trumpian politics, don’t worry: DeMonaco’s screenplay will remind you every five minutes.
Look here: Klansmen have the run of the place. Look there: it’s the Stars and Stripes on a baseball pitch. Squint and the anti-Purge demonstrators – led by Lex Scott Davis’ noble Nya – look awfully like Black Lives Matter.
Later, as Nya fights off one of the Purge’s many marauders, she yells “P***y-grabbing motherf**ker”. And so on.
The First Purge, we soon learn, is an experiment, designed by a psychologist (Tomei) and the NFFA, and set in the shabbier projects of Stanton Island. Residents will be financially compensated for remaining in the neighbourhood for the 12-hours of lawlessness, with the promise of even more money should they “choose to participate”.
Initially, only a local psychopath named Skeletor (Rotomi Paul) seems hell-bent on killing, with most locals gathering for good-natured block parties or sheltering in churches. But there’s more variables in this ‘experiment’ than the subjects have been led to believe.
The heroes of the hour are Nya, who is as movie-brand woke as she is dreadlocked, and a ludicrously soulful drug-lord named Dmitri (the charismatic Y’Lan Noel), who courageously puts aside his drugs and prostitutes to save his childhood sweetheart.
There is something compelling about the film’s community fightback, but mostly, this prequel coasts along on silliness.
Director Gerard McMurray manages the mayhem well and the increasingly heightened third act is basically black Die Hard versus Nazis in latex. If you can get on board with that, or if you’re an existing Purge series fan, this will do well enough.