In The First Purge, the origins story of the surprisingly durable sci-fi/horror franchise, a young woman says we all are given a choice — to hurt or to heal.
Healing does not seem to be a priority for Purge writer/creator James DeMonaco in this new installment, which builds to a vicious war between the black and brown residents of a Staten Island housing project and invaders costumed as Klansmen, Gestapo and crypto-Nazi tiki torch dweebs.
This is the culmination of DeMonaco’s seething Purge scenarios, which have become increasingly focused on polarization and rage. The first was a Desperate Hours update about a rich man (Ethan Hawke) who finds that his expensive security system and gated home cannot protect him from the scourge of the purge — the one night a year when citizens can commit any crime, including murder, with impunity.
>> READ MORE: ‘The Purge’: A violent film questioning violence
>> READ MORE: ‘The Purge: Anarchy’: More of the most dangerous game
>> READ MORE: ‘The Purge: Election Year’: Bloodbath 2016
It’s fair to say DeMonaco was onto something — certainly he foresaw the current moment, when “civility” would be written off of the hand-wringing of fuddy-duddies.
After all, what’s wrong with civil disobedience?
And aren’t those people on the other side awful?
And don’t they have it coming?
And haven’t cathartic outbursts of rage always been helpful and productive?
The First Purge tests that theory, set forth by a “social scientist” played by the hilariously miscast Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei. Using Staten Island as testing ground, she’s conducting an experiment to see whether a night of lawlessness would be healthy for an angry populace.
The government, a neo-fascist crew known as the New Founding Fathers, is sponsoring the event, but for its own reasons. The NRA, we’re told, has flooded the neighborhood with weapons, giving locals the tools of their own mutual destruction, thus reducing the surplus population, lowering crime and unemployment. It’s the pilot program for what will later unfold across the land in future Purge movies.
Another incentive — any Staten Islander who agrees to participate gets $5,000 (actually $5,000 less than you currently get for moving to Vermont, to me the more attractive option), and additional funds if you kill your neighbors.
A young man named Isiah (Joivan Wade) takes the money, to the chagrin of his pacifist/activist sister (Lex Scott Davis). Her ex-boyfriend (Y’lan Noel) is now a drug kingpin whose heavily armed soldiers are in place to protect their money, drugs, and friends from any and all comers.
They become the rooting interests when Staten Island is overrun with masked murderers from the outside, and DeMonaco invites us all to cheer the slaughter of these archetypal hate-mongers (one guys wears a minstrel mask), while the soundtrack plays a warped rendition of “America the Beautiful.” It’s DeMonaco’s own version of the Tomei’s catharsis theory, and if you emerged feeling cleansed, you’re one of the lucky ones.
The movie opens Fourth of July.
I’d barbecue if I were you.
The First Purge
- Directed by Gerard McMurray. With Marisa Tomei, Lex Scott Davis, Y'lan Neol, Joivan Wade and Jermel Howard. Distributed by Universal Pictures.
- Running time: 1 hour, 37 mins.
- Parents guide: R (violence. language)
- Playing at: Area theaters