The First Purge (2018)
★ / ★★★★
One can tell “The First Purge” is made as quickly and as cheaply as possible when it is obvious a scene is shot in front of a green screen like some D-grade television movie. While this criticism may sound pedantic—it is only one scene, after all—it is relevant because it is representative of the filmmakers’ attitude toward their work. The picture is written by James DeMonaco, who penned the screenplay for the previous “Purge” movies, and directed by Gerard McMurray; I make a note to mention their names because they are responsible for helming a project so dull, so consistently on autopilot, and so boring, that it would be more pleasurable to take a nap at the movies than it is to struggle to keep one’s eyes open for the mediocrity being forced upon the brain.
I am especially annoyed by its lack of ambition and creativity because the three preceding “Purge” films have alluded to the fact that the annual legalization of all crimes for twelve hours started off as a social experiment. Here is a chance to deeply explore the study and yet the script is most unprepared, or simply unwilling, to deliver the requisite insight and surprises. Instead, we are fed of the usual lines involving the United States being overpopulated, resources being scarce, the social and political unrest… All of the details so lacking in freshness and common sense that if this installment did not exist, at least one could imagine more specific, exciting, and noteworthy details about how the yearly ritual came about.
Many viewers enjoy these films solely for the violence, so let’s assess the film on that level. Those who crave bloody and resourceful kills are likely to be disappointed because most kills are handled with guns—military-grade, fast, loud, eventually, and boring. The joke is on the gorehounds because considering that it is the first year of The Purge, people are reluctant to do anything. In fact, the people of Long Island, where the trial occurs before the rest of the country follows, end up throwing a neighborhood dance party.
While amusing because the material attempts to make a statement about people’s relationship with authority, their morality, and the lack of congruity between lower socioeconomic status and thirst for violence for the sake of being violent, the screenplay does not function on a high intellectual engagement and so it does not work. The lack of violence, particularly in the first half, is problematic on the level of pure entertainment because a rather large group of audience signs up to see blood and action. And when these elements do come around during the latter half, they are most generic. The script is so lazily made, it does not even have an appropriate third act.
Notice how I did not even mention the characters. The reason is because all of them are one-dimensional with nothing new or interesting to say about the state of their country. I actually waited for the moment a few of them (finally) meet their demise. Naturally, it never happened. The most toothless horror-thrillers tend to push every “nice” character (translation: boring) imaginable to survive in order to create a semblance of a happy ending. But we know for a fact that the story would not have a happy ending because the previous films prove that The Purge became a U.S. tradition, deeply embedded in the country’s rotten identity.