Review: 'The First Purge', Trumpian Horror Gets A Blaxploitation-style Origin

Through what are now four wildly successful movies, The Purge franchise has been plugged into the raw anger being felt in this country like nothing else before it. There's no coincidence that the previous film, The Purge: Election Year, dropped in 2016 during the most "deplorable" political campaign ever. Its premise of an annual event in which all violent crime is legal for 12 hours highlighting the split between the defenseless poor and the bloodthirsty one percent who both created the Purge and use it to advance their agenda. And now we have The First Purge, which takes us back to the night of murder's origins, and the biggest surprise isn't how the Purge was started, it's how the first one ends.

Franchise writer/director James DeMonaco handles scripting duties only this time, passing the directorial reins over to Gerard McMurray (Burning Sands), but you'll never know the difference. Dumpster fires still litter every street corner while masked killers stalk their prey, while rich white politicians in ivory towers plot the downfall of the less fortunate. As these movies have become scarily timely, DeMonaco's digs at our so-called democracy have become more overt. The marketing campaign for The First Purge featured prominently a red "MAGA" style Trump hat, and depending on who you ask these movies are the current Presidential administration cranked up to 11. In a sense they could be seen as a warning of what could happen if the most extreme, hardline strain of conservatism is ever allowed to go unchecked. There's undoubtedly an audience out there who see The Purge as the one good idea ever to come from Hollywood. They probably won't like the most blatant shot taken at Trump, a "Grab 'em by the pussy" moment that had the crowd howling.

No matter where you fall on the ideological spectrum, The First Purge will scratch your itch for politically-charged ultra-violence. The least complex and thus least creative film in the franchise since its debut, the inaugural Purge rolls out almost exactly as one might expect. With the economy in a shambles and crime at an all-time high, a third political party known as the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA)  get elected into office with the support of the NRA and other shadowy organizations. Newly-elected President Bracken, with the help of psychologist Dr. May Updale (Marisa Tomei, Aunt May created the Purge!!!?), decide Staten Island is the perfect test vehicle for the first Purge, taking advantage of the poor by paying residents to stay in town through the evening's killings. Or in other cases, paying residents to go out and do the dirty deeds themselves.

The city's residents rise up in opposition once the government starts taking steps to escalate the body count. There's local drug kingpin Dmitri (Insecure's Y'lan Noel) who is forced to reconcile his criminal activities with the love he has for his 'hood and the people in it, like Nya (Lex Scott Davis), his ex who has always stayed on the straight and narrow path. She fights to protect her brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade), who may be following too closely in Dmitri's footsteps. All of that gets pushed aside when there are roving packs of KKK members with military grade weapons, and entire squads dressed like members of Hitler's S.S.

The First Purge feels all too familiar until the final act when suddenly it starts to resemble an old school Blaxploitation flick. This gangbangers vs. Nazis riff is when DeMonaco is most inspired, and Noel does his best Wesley Snipes impression. There's something about a badass black action hero cutting a path through a bunch of Nazi assholes. It's a genius move both as a statement against those who foment the kind of racist hatred that gave birth to the Purge, but also just as a tonal change of pace for the franchise which could go on forever, shifting as the political winds so often do. It's funny to think back to how different these movies felt five years ago in the time of hope and change. And now they are the eerie reflection in a mirror. With a new TV series coming up this fall, it's a reflection we may be forced to look at a lot more, at least until DeMonaco gives us the inevitable Final Purge.

Rating: 3 out of 5