Film Review: The First Purge

Dystopian horror prequel The First Purge offers the same brand of violence and social commentary as the rest of the series. Four films in, it all feels a bit too familiar. 

After the breakdown of American society, a new political party (the New Founding Fathers of America) is in power. The party allow an experiment to take place on Staten Island; for twelve hours, all crime is legal…

A prequel to the horror trilogy, The First Purge shows viewers how the annual event first began. The film concentrates on an experiment that takes place on Staten Island, which paves the way for a national event. The opening gambit summarises how America got to the point where the purge experiment would be acceptable. Director Gerard McMurray breezes through this aspect, using newsreel of protests to show how America has come to this point. The reasoning behind the experiment is flimsy, with the scantest of efforts exploring the method behind it. 

From the first film in 2013, The Purge series has become more of a reflection of contemporary America. The first film felt like satire, but the filmmakers have tried to marry the films to real-life issues increasingly as the series has progressed. This prequel continues this trend, feeling less satire and more possible future. Some of the imagery, references, and phrases capitalise on this. 

There is a high body count in The First Purge, but the feeling of déjà vu is strong. As the narrative is set up, the movements are too familiar. The protagonists are made clear, but character development is not a priority for writer James DeMonaco. Later in the film there is a sequence taken straight from The Raid; the foreshadowing is almost overpowering for those familiar with Gareth Evans’ film. 

Performances in the film are perfectly acceptable. Mugga’s Delores given some good lines, providing necessary comic relief. Marisa Tomei is underused in a thankless role. Lex Scott Davis is decent. Dialogue in the film is not always great, but an improvement on the last chapter, The Purge: Election Year.

The First Purge rounds up the series suitably well, and leaves the film franchise no where to go. The film is not boring, but is not original either. 

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Film Review: The Purge: Election Year

The Purge: Election Year

The Purge: Election Year is a suitable conclusion to the franchise. There are some interesting ideas in the film, although these are overplayed at times.

Former police officer Leo Barnes is now head of security for Senator Charlie Roan. Roan is running for president on a ticket of eliminating the annual purge. Those in power are less keen to see her succeed…

The first Purge film was a home invasion horror. The political overtones were clear, but these became much more overt in sequel The Purge: Anarchy. The Purge: Election Year is much less a horror film, although violence is frequent. The film functions as an action thriller – a race against time to protect the senator. This third instalment positions political and social allegory at the centre. Where it’s predecessor highlighted the inequalities of its dystopian world, this film makes the case on a grander scale.

The construction of the film is to introduce new characters, and make the audience care about their survival. Writer-director James DeMonaco gives Roan a backstory by way of brief flashback at the beginning of the film. This is enough to offer reasons for the character’s drive, yet does not flesh out a character that audiences will really care about. Having fought his demons in the previous instalment, Barnes is solely a protector in The Purge: Election Year.

Elsewhere, Joe’s dialogue is amusing to begin with, but quickly turns embarrassing. The girls who enter his shop are hideously overplayed. This distracts from a later sequence that works rather well. There are a few good set pieces in the film; the action is certainly stronger than the dialogue. Frank Grillo is strongest in the physical sequences, whilst Elizabeth Mitchell looks suitably ernest. Mykelti Williamson must despair at some of his material.

The Purge: Election Year, like its predecessors, has great ideas and good action sequences. However, the parts remain better than the sum.

Film Review: The Purge: Anarchy

The Purge: Anarchy

James DeMonaco’s sequel The Purge: Anarchy offers some interesting ideas, like its predecessor. It is a shame that these are not executed as effectively as they could be however.

The annual night of the purge is about to commence, and most citizens are rushing home to barricade themselves against intruders. When a few innocents unwittingly find themselves on the streets after sunset, it is up to a mysterious stranger to help them survive…

The Purge: Anarchy follows the same format of its predecessor, confining action to a single day of the purge. The sequel deviates by focusing on a few disparate pairs. Rather than the wealthy family of the first film, The Purge: Anarchy focuses on less well-off characters.

The distinction between rich and poor was a key theme of The Purge. This dynamic takes centre stage in the sequel. The ideas here are adequate enough; it is a pity that some of them remain underdeveloped, whilst others are not really executed in a satisfying fashion.

Characters in The Purge: Anarchy are not really developed enough for viewers to become invested in their fates. The exception to this is Frank Grillo’s character, who retains some mystery. Other main characters have little to give them colour. To begin with, the snippets of information present an edge of mystery. Unfortunately, as the film progresses, it becomes clear that they are simply one dimensional.

The Purge: Anarchy presents its viewers with some apparently shocking situations. Violence is frequent, yet some of these incidents are not as affecting as writer-director James DeMonaco may have hoped. The set-ups are fine, but sometimes an understated approach would have had more of an effect. The film is rather clear on its opinion of violence. Yet, it does not shy away from gratuitous scenes.

Pacing in the film is good, and performances are adequate. The downside to The Purge: Anarchy is that some good ideas are not developed into memorable viewing.