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This madness looks familiar

Purge franchise's outlandish premise hews closer to reality in punchy prequel

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/7/2018 (731 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The first of four Purge movies was released in 2013 and at the time... it seemed crazy.

At the very least, it was skimming well above the subconcious hypodermis of the era with a story about an upper-middle-class dad (Ethan Hawke) attempting to defend his high-tech house from the encroachment of a violent mob madly indulging in an annual night of government sanctioned criminality known as "the Purge."

Movie review

Click to Expand

The First Purge
Starring Lex Scott Gavis and Y’lan Noel
● Grant Park, McGillivray, Polo Park, St. Vital, Towne
● 14A
● 98 minutes
★★★1/2 stars out of five

Funny thing about the two subsequent Purge movies — The Purge: Anarchy and The Purge: Election Year: As far-fetched as they are, they seem to pendulum ever closer to reality as they go.

The zeitgeist has landed with The First Purge, a prequel that explains how the whole darn thing started in the first place. Somehow, the once-crazy premise lands squarely in the unease of the moment when, in America, once honoured institutions have become explicitly racist, with the whole-hearted approval of a white male power structure with pretensions to Revolutionary War ideals. (In Purge-world, they call themselves the "New Founding Fathers of America," but they certainly have their origins in the Tea Party era, launched to oppose the Barack Obama presidency.)

The cause of it all, it emerges, is a cockamamie sociologist (Marisa Tomei) who postulates that letting people engage in the baser instincts for one night a year will relieve the psychic pressure of modern living for the whole nation.

That theory sits well with the genocidal designs of party functionary Sabian (Patch Darragh) who devises a prototypical test of Purge Night on Staten Island, offering cash incentives to that community’s impoverished citizens to not only stay put but, if the mood hits, kill.

Other voices

The First Purge largely succeeds in capturing the bewilderment many of us are feeling about America these days... I’d be hard-pressed to think of another movie this year that better conveys the disbelief that this what America has come to.

— Inkoo Kang, Slate

The First Purge largely succeeds in capturing the bewilderment many of us are feeling about America these days... I’d be hard-pressed to think of another movie this year that better conveys the disbelief that this what America has come to.

— Inkoo Kang, Slate

By delivering the story within the framework of genre cinema at its most trashy and garish, the filmmakers convey any message as a bit of rough pleasure amid the kicks and thrills of a movie.

— Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times

Maybe it was inevitable that the franchise would circle around so far that it’d begin to eat its own tail.

Karen Han, indieWire

Unless the next film in the franchise outdoes it, The First Purge will be the gold standard by which horror movies that were really bad ideas are judged.

Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Resolving to stay and fight the power is community activist Nya (Lex Scott Davis), but her planned night-long vigil in a church goes off the rails when her younger brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade) is caught outside, conducting his own hunt for the drug-crazed thug Skeletor (Rotimi Paul) who earlier threatened his life.

Nya’s ex-boyfriend, drug kingpin Dmitri (Y’Lan Noel), has also resolved to stay on the island to protect his criminal empire. But he finds a higher calling — protecting not just Nya but the whole Staten Island population — when the government decides artificially boost the body count by sending in white nationalist mercenaries dressed as either Ku Klux Klan members or Nazis.

As close as it hews to the madness of our time, the film does not aim for any high-flown artistic credibility. That is a cheque the outlandish premise cannot cash.

Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and Isaiah (Joivan Wade, right) seek some refuge from the mayhem. (Annette Brown / Universal Pictures)

Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and Isaiah (Joivan Wade, right) seek some refuge from the mayhem. (Annette Brown / Universal Pictures)

Director Gerard McMurray wisely roots the film in the milieu of the exploitation B-movie. It’s not Stanley (Clockwork Orange) Kubrick so much as John (Escape from New York) Carpenter. As in that specific precedent, this is quality quick-and-dirty filmmaking with a good guy who isn’t all that good.

The writer-director of the first three Purges, James DeMonaco, turned over the directing duties this time to a black director and it’s very much the right choice.

McMurray amps the political outrage, but he also offers a change-up from the franchise’s more tired tropes. More pointedly, McMurray proves willing to suggest the franchise’s dystopian craziness is closer to reality than ever before.

 

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

Read full biography

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