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They say that every movie starts at a 5 out of 10 and either goes up or down from there. The first few lines of this movie’s dialogue are spoken by a junkie clearly off his rocker, and an interviewer. The junkie’s name is Skeletor (yes, really), and he’s talking about why he’s an addict in awkward close-up. The movie finishes its cold opening with these lines. Skeletor: “I want to release this pain. To purge.” Interviewer: “Purge. Interesting choice.” Then we cut to the title card. So far, this movie is sitting at a perfect zero.
The Purge franchise holds a place in horror fans' hearts as a silly yet fun series. What makes it so appealing is its concept of a dystopian alternate reality where crime is legalized one night per year. With this being the first in the chronology, you’d expect that they would explain how this tradition came to pass. There was only one question this franchise needed to answer: how did the Purge begin? The movie starts off reasonable enough, the event is contained to Staten Island and is simply known as a psychological experiment. The aim is to see how people will react when there is no law or order to keep them in line. As expected, everyone's main goal is to loot and riot, but once the first kill of the night makes the news, the streets dissolve into mayhem, making the whole movie a study of human nature. At least, that's what the logical progression should have been.
Instead, the movie takes advantage of the current political climate and declares that the only reason why there would be murder on Purge night is that the government uses it as a cover to send in hate groups and mercenaries (who happen to be Russian) to take out low income people of color. This movie is so on the nose with its politics and left-wing bias that it feels less like a action thriller and borderline parody. There's a militia being sent in to wipe out an entire apartment tower, complete with a leader dressed like an SS soldier, whose theme music sounds a bit reminiscent of American Horror Story, and a shot of White men dressed as police officers beating up a Black man. It's so blatantly obvious to what James DeMonaco is trying to say that it's agitating. Does he honestly think the police department are one giant death squad just waiting for government approval? Does he really believe that the current administration will sign a bill into law that will legitimize the Purge? If I hadn't plopped down $14 to see this, I would have walked out when the Ku Klux Klan showed up.
This all wouldn't be so bad if there was some mindless action to go along with it, but it's so bland and interesting it makes the movie nearly unwatchable. A real shame, since the gory violence is what made the franchise so appealing in the first place. We have a cartoonish villain, sloppy editing and the generic soundtrack. It's mainly segments of awkward cinematography with no rhyme or reason, horror shrills and 'America the Beautiful' minced together, and trap music indicating the arrival of the kingpin character. It's a clumsily slapped together project that makes it a chore to get through.
The First Purge was meant to be a vital part in setting up the lore of the franchise, instead, it exploits the reality of today's world and uses it to deliver the same liberal messages we've been getting every single day over the last two years. If there is one thing everybody can take away from it, it's the fact that it takes place in March of 2018. So, everybody relax, we don't live in the timeline where the Purge becomes a reality. We do, however, live in a time where saying the "wrong" thing can be extremely detrimental, and movies like this only fuel the fire. If DeMonaco and director Gerard McMurray's end goal was to further divide people politically, then mission accomplished.
Rating: Skip It