Monday, November 26, 2018

Like a Purge-in

Like any opinionated movie fan, I don't hate to say I told you so. 

Back in 2014, I found myself one of the few defenders of the first installment of The Purge. It's a decent one-off horror film, but more importantly, it was clear that writer/director James DeMonaco was setting up such a fascinatingly ripe world for more explanation. Here's what I had to say/predict:

"There's probably a whole novel that could be written about how the homeless community deals with the event, not to mention the mysterious history of what brought American society to this point in the first place.

My point is that The Purge is a great idea that deserves A LOT of further exploration and thankfully, its box office success seems to have guaranteed that. Perhaps a lot of early reviewers were disappointed with the film narrowing its focus to one family, but now knowing that we'll get more Purges, I'm happy to say that such a decision on DeMonaco's part was the right one."

Two incredibly fun sequels, one prequel, and a genuinely fun TV series later, I'm proud to have been right. I don't know that any of the Purge films have reached truly top levels of filmmaking (Election Year comes closest for me), but every one has been as fun an experience as it was weirdly, terrifyingly relevant in the current political climate. 

Now let's go back to the beginning. 

Quick Plot: After swooping into political power, the New Founding Fathers of America decide to begin beta testing the night that will become the infamous Purge. Due to its isolated location (and more importantly, high low income non-Caucasian population), Staten Island is chosen for the trial run.

The citizens are of mixed opinion, especially with government offering $5000 for any resident to remain in place for the night, with a bonus if they wear high tech body cams (in the form of cat-like contact lenses) and actually participate in the violence. Led by the politically active Nya, the more peaceful Islanders attempt to wait it out in a secure church. Others, including some vengeful bag ladies and drug addicted Skeletor, dig on in, channeling all of their anger at the world into embracing the Purge.

The level of Purge enthusiasm isn't high enough for the NFFA, who send in swarms of mercenaries to up the death count. This comes at the dismay of Dr. Updale (Marissa Tomei!), the ace psychologist who developed the night's concept based on responsibly gathered research only to watch it be corrupted by the racist party now in control.

With its "Keep America Great" tagline, Election Year cemented The Purge franchise as being a dark funhouse mirror version of current American politics. The First Purge fully leans in to smart effect. This is the first Purge film not directed by DeMonaco, and his passing the reins over to Gerard McMurray, a black man, feels incredibly significant.

While all previous Purges have dealt with race, The First Purge is really the first to center itself on the topic. Look, I'm the last person to want less Frank Grillo, but it's refreshing and right that most of the cast members are people of color. DeMonaco's script and McMurray's direction feature diverse characters not just in their physical race, but in how they're represented. 

With all that said, I didn't *quite* have as much "fun" with The First Purge as the last two sequels. This isn't necessarily a fault of the movie; the idea that a genre film is a little too relevant is in no way a bad thing. Horror has always been a powerful tool to explore society's ills, and it's genuinely admirable how DeMonaco has managed to use his series to satirize modern America. 

It's just sometimes hard to watch.

High Points
The First Purge makes a great decision in its leads. Y'lan Noel and Lex Scott Davis are incredibly watchable, and it's impossible not to root for their safety

Low Points
On the flip side, it's something of a shame that Marissa Tomei doesn't get nearly enough to do

Lessons Learned
In Purge math, five bullets are more valuable than one spatula

Never go to a Staten Island church sermon without a fulls supply of liquor

Purge dance parties are going to end exactly how you expect

The First Purge is probably the the film in the franchise that I'll revisit least, but it's an absolutely solid effort and feels like exactly the right installment for this time. I can't really complain about the fourth film in a horror franchise being too politically relevant just because it makes me think too much about the state of the world, right? There are important things happening in this series, and it's exciting to watch. Just...a little less fun. 

No comments:

Post a Comment