Film Review – The First Purge (2018)

Well, dip The Doc in birdshit! The annual Purge sounds like the greatest enactment of governmental policy since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Or is it...

“Get out there and make yourselves better citizens.”

Who amongst us is ready for a good purging?

A quick recap of the history of The Purge movies seems in order. A political party known as the New Founding Fathers of America – the NFFA – has taken power in America and maintained a stranglehold on the Presidency. Quite honestly, after nearly two and a half centuries of Republicans and Democrats endlessly bickering with each other, the NFFA probably seemed like a welcome breath of fresh air. One of the initial and more radical ideas of the NFFA is the annual Purge, a twelve-hour period taking place from 7pm to 7am every March 21st where all crime, including murder, is legal. Perhaps the NFFA has nefarious motives, but The Purge is sold to the citizenry as a good and noble enterprise that allows Americans to release a year’s worth of pent up emotion and hostility and therefore “purge” or cleanse themselves of the lesser angels of their nature. And, gosh golly, it worked. Unemployment remains low, crime is mostly a non-entity and the number of people living below the poverty line has been drastically reduced. Well, dip The Doc in birdshit! If that’s the case, the annual Purge sounds like the greatest enactment of governmental policy since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Or is it…

In the initial installment, The Purge is basically another example of the horror/suspense subgenre known as “Home Invasion Horror”. Ethan Hawke is one of the wealthy suburbanites who can afford a state of the art, lockdown security system for his home. In fact, Hawke’s protagonist is an executive at the company that designs these systems, which consist of a series of thick metal shields that are lowered and raised like garage doors over every possible opening into your home. Right before the Purge begins, Hawke and his neighbors lower the barricades over their McMansions and spend the night with their families in ease and safety. However, a young black male, wounded and bleeding, has fled some would-be Purge participants into this white-bread neighborhood where Hawke’s sympathetic son lets him inside. Their home is subsequently surrounded by the young – and white – good looking Purge people who warn Hawke in no uncertain terms that he can release the scum hiding in his house to receive his just dessert… or else they are going to find a way inside and kill Hawke and his entire family. I’ll stop there for those who haven’t seen The Purge and/or are unaware of the outcome.

In The Purge: Anarchy, we leave the relative safety of a barricaded home and go out into the greasy midnight streets with The Sergeant, expertly portrayed with equal parts of quiet toughness and pathos by Frank Grillo. He isn’t purging for giggles; Sarge has armor plated his Dodge Charger and armed himself to the teeth for a very specific revenge mission. However, he gets caught up with some good souls who find themselves trapped outside during the Purge melee, and he takes it upon himself to try and shepherd them to safer environs.

In The Purge: Election Year, Grillo is back again (sorry for the spoiler, he survives part two) where we learn that his name is Leo and he is now working as the head of security for a Presidential candidate (Elizabeth Mitchell) who plans to run against the NFFA and, if elected, may end the Purge. Of course, the NFFA doesn’t want that nonsense to come to fruition, so they send out a goon squad to try and take out the candidate on Purge Night. Leo and his charge escape on foot into the night, and here we go again…

That is the briefest and most hackneyed of synopses that I can give, and your favorite Doctor is almost ashamed of myself, but the introduction called for a certain amount of brevity. Make no mistake about it, The Doctor is certainly a fan of The Purge films and eagerly awaited another entry in the franchise. Also, in some sort of moviemaking miracle and with all deference and respect to Ethan Hawke, the films are more entertaining with each iteration! The initial The Purge movie was thrilling and suspenseful, but it’s in the sequels where the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan in unabashed, crazy goodness. Hopefully I have provided you with the background information required in order to enjoy the recently released prequel, The First Purge.

In the words of Dirty Harry, I don’t think this guy is collecting for The Red Cross

The NFFA has just come to power and had their first presidential candidate elected. A brief newscast snippet informs us that the tipping point came when the NRA threw its support behind the NFFA (I love these little bursts of subversion that are sprinkled throughout the Purge movies). An experiment – slowly becoming known via slang as a “Purge” – has been given the greenlight. This experiment will be limited in scope, isolated to the borough of Staten Island, New York. Anyone who wants to leave is free to do so, but those who agree to stay will be paid five thousand dollars in legal tender. This is too much money to turn down for many of the residents of Staten Island, especially those in the lower income areas. Most of them probably didn’t have anywhere else to go. Extra dollars are promised for those who actively “participate” in Purge activities (hmmm… maybe you are on the fence, but then you get offered a cash prize? How many would jump off of the fence at that point?).

The most prominent citizen of Staten Island is Dmitri (Y’lan Noel), a thirtyish, intelligent, inner city drug kingpin who runs his illicit trade with the panache of a corporate CEO. Dmitri’s long ago ex-girlfriend Nya (the lovely Lex Scott Davis) lives in a tenement building with her younger brother and refuses Dmitri’s offer of protection as she doesn’t want to be associated with him. Dmitri admits that he is leery of the Purge and he initially orders his troops to ground. Lay low, protect each other, and protect the product. Obviously, such a man has no problem with violence, but only on his terms and preferably when he orders it. Anarchy is bad for business and Dmitri is nothing if not a businessman. However, when a couple of high class escort girls visit Dmitri’s swank bachelor pad and attempt to murder him at the behest of a rival, Dmitri takes to the streets to enact his revenge. He may have been content to finish this necessary bit of business and return home, but when he and a friend are again attacked under suspicious circumstances by the Purge film staple of a vehicle set aflame, Dmitri orders out his army.

Y’lan Noel delivers a strong performance as Dmitri in “The First Purge”

At first the participation in the initial Purge is almost non-existent, limited mostly to looting and the actions of a drug-addled loony known as Skeletor (Rotimi Paul). The citizens of Staten Island are even having Purge parties, non-violent raves where they drink and dance with glowsticks. Unfortunately, we learn that the NFFA (read: lying politicians) have hired groups of mercenaries to impersonate Staten Island street gangs, marauding and committing mass murder to drive up the Purge numbers. The idea of subterfuge by the NFFA was introduced in the sequel The Purge: Anarchy when the character of Big Daddy (Jack Conley) informs the Sarge that the numbers are down and some inorganic inflation is needed. The numbers can’t be down that much, because by the time of the sequels, people are heading outside on Purge night with assault rifles, blowtorches, machetes, and even a guillotine. Apparently, you can lead a horse to water and make him drink!

The streets on Purge Night. In the strictest medical terms, it’s some crazy ass shit

Once Dmitri realizes that something is rotten in Denmark – well, Staten Island – he gathers his remaining soldiers and heads to the tenement building to try and rescue Nya. By the way, the irony that Dmitri needs to protect his customers so that they can continue to purchase his dope on non-Purge days was not lost on The Doctor. Dmitri then starts whupping some ass like Jason Statham in one of The Mechanic movies. I realize that the character is a streetwise tough who would be good in a fight, but being able to defeat professional mercenaries in hand-to-hand combat seems a bit much. I have more than a query or two about how the character of Dmitri was envisioned and ultimately written, but I have nothing but praise for Y’lan Noel’s performance. His imdb page doesn’t offer much in the way of a filmography or personal information but he made for an engaging lead in The First Purge. Dmitri is required to be a Prada clad smooth operator and an action hero badass, and Noel succeeds in the delivery. I will keep an eye out for his upcoming work.

The Doctor doesn’t care much for oft-heard refrains – why perpetuate an already hopeless dearth of originality? – but I think one may be called for, so here it is, dammit: if you have enjoyed the Purge movies thus far, you will not be disappointed by The First Purge. Some will decry the politicism and the “statements” but they were so blatantly obvious to me that I was unbothered. The Purge films have always been possessed of a class-consciousness and serious racial undertones. The poor and disenfranchised are unable to afford the top-notch home protection systems, and the greatest level of purging always seems to take place in downtown urban centers where only piss-poor housing is available for most working-class people. All of which would obviously be true were The Purge a tangible reality. And to me, a man of science, interesting moral and philosophical questions are raised by the Purge movies, and The First Purge is no different from its predecessors in this regard. Would we purge, if it was legally sanctioned by the government? How would people cope with the mental ramifications of the aftermath? And, as the NFFA promises and the statistics presented in the films tells us, would the purge really eradicate crime and poverty and placate the masses for the other 364 days of the year? My professional opinion is, I fucking doubt it. Something tells The Doctor that once humanity has whetted our collective appetites, we would be hard-pressed to so quickly return to whatever passes for normal and start singing Kumbaya. I would posit that thankfully we will never find out but, in today’s world, who knows? Well shucks, that is enough heavy-handedness. That Purge movies makes me think of these things is a testament to their theatrical value. Check out The First Purge for an entertaining romp. As always, my dear friends, The Doctor wishes you all a clean bill of health.

Beyond The Pod

The Doctor attended The Poughkeepsie Institute of Technical Science or, as it is colloquially referred to, The Pits. His thesis paper "It's Far to Early to Tell" has been used in classrooms as an example of how NOT to formulate a medical science theory. The Doctor was previously employed in Mallorca, Spain as a master of ceremonies and first aid provider at local wine tastings before joining the Tuesday Night Cigar Club.