The First Purge (3 stars)

The First Purge

Unsubtle but charged and effective prequel, featuring Marisa Tomei and Y'lan Noel

After three instalments of the Purge franchise – where violence descends upon the USA for one night a year as all crime is officially declared legal – the creator asks the question, 'How did we get here?'

Director Gerard McMurray and writer James DeMonaco (who wrote and directed the previous films) turn the answer into a no-nonsense, incendiary B-movie that calls out political deception, fake news and overt racism. Its targets are specific and though the film builds to a wild, war-zone-like ambience similar to John Carpenter's Escape from New York its perspective on humanity is far more generous. The government, however, well that's a whole different story.

Staten Island is the site for a new social experiment, thought up by The Architect (Marisa Tomei) and funded by the NFFA: the New Founding Fathers of America. All residents are offered $5000 to stay on the island, fitted with tracking devices to make sure they haven't left and given neon-coloured contact lenses, so they can record their crimes if they wish to partake. The more killing and carnage, the greater the reward. When the residents don't play their manipulative game – instead choosing to congregate in churches and throw fun street parties – the NFFA draft in their own players. Gangs of ex-militia and men dressed in KKK and Nazi-inspired uniforms are called in from the benches to ferociously up the death toll.

While you can't accuse The First Purge of subtlety, the imagery used is charged and blisteringly effective and it makes great use of horror tropes and characters to bust racist myths. The set-up may be simple and delivered with blunt force, but the payoff is a divine blast of heroic action and mayhem, with leads Dmitri (the excellent Y'lan Noel from Insecure) and Nya (Lex Scott Davis) bringing the community together to fight the power.

General release from Wed 4 Jul.

The First Purge

  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • USA
  • 1h 37min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Gerard McMurray
  • Cast: Marisa Tomei, Melonie Diaz, Y'lan Noe
  • UK release: 4 July 2018

No-nonsense, incendiary B-movie prequel to the franchise, in which the government tries out the whole ‘purge’ idea for the first time. Noel and Scott Davis are fine leads, and it makes great use of horror tropes and characters to bust racist myths. Unsubtle, but charged and effective.