What better viewing choice on the 4th of July than the latest instalment in the satirical horror series, one that goes back to the beginning and commemorates the very start of the decline of the land of the so-called free? “The First Purge” sets out to explain just how a society could come to adopt such a monstrous idea in the first place, a question which feels less and less difficult to answer with each passing day.

With the public’s confidence in the American state at an all-time low, a new fundamentalist party arises, the New Founding Fathers of America. The NFFA, having won the Presidency, set out to conduct an experiment: the suspension of all laws on Statten Island, a pilot Purge for the American people.

“The Purge” gave us a home invasion thriller set against the backdrop of a neat satirical conceit and the sequel continued to explore the philosophical underpinnings of the purge, this time combining it with an “Escape From New York”-esque survival challenge. By the time we reached “The Purge: Election Year”, there was a disturbing alignment between the real world and the fictional dystopia of the NFFA’s America.

It’s this last factor which presents “The First Purge” with its biggest challenge, one that it struggles to overcome. It’s difficult to be satirical when reality is nipping at your heels, threatening to overtake you. There’s nowhere for satire to go when nothing seems too absurd, too hyperbolic to happen in real life. So when “The First Purge” takes it shots directly against Trump, they feel tired and feeble. The franchise has screamed itself hoarse warning us of what could come and now all it’s got left is a croaky whisper.

Ironically, it improves markedly once it ditches the (by this point) futile satire and switches fully to “Die Hard”-in-the-projects. Y’lan Noel makes for a fine action hero as he single-handedly takes on the government stooges threatening the frightened residents of a tower block and there’s a nice irony in the dominant local drug dealer being the last remaining moral authority, illustrating just how low society has sunk. The rest of the cast are solid, especially Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade and Mugga as the group whose survival we’re rooting for. Rotimi Paul grabs the attention as the psychotic neighbourhood whacko ‘Skeletor’ but he’s a fig leaf for the film’s second weakness: the lack of a focus villain against which to rail. Patch Darragh, as White House Chief of Staff Arlo Sabian provides a kind of doughy, bureaucratic menace but he’s too remote and bland to be threatening and Marissa Tomei is miscast and wasted in a thanklessly underwritten role as the psychologist who ‘starts’ the whole purge. There are various hate groups and Nazi-fetishists peppered throughout the last hour of the movie but none get a chance to be much more than cannon fodder as the film serves up violence to fill the social commentary void.

If you’re looking for a violent action thriller, “The First Purge” is perfectly serviceable but if you’re looking for a tall glass of trenchant insight to wash down all the bloody mayhem, the real-life GOP have poisoned the well.



Related posts

Postman Pat: The Movie (2014) Review

Postman Pat: The Movie (2014) Review

When I asked the Mertmas, who was sitting in his "Godzilla" pyjamas playing with a toy Toothless the dragon what he'd like to see at the cinema, I thought I was onto a sure thing. Imagine my surprise when he adamantly and unswervingly decided he wanted to see "Postman Pat The...

The Movie Bunker Podcast: Superman III

The Movie Bunker Podcast: Superman III

The Movie Bunker Podcast: Superman IIIThis week, I was a guest on The Movie Bunker Podcast's Episode 42 - talking about how life, the universe and everything is better for having "Superman III" in it.The Movie Bunker Podcast is a podcast dedicated to reviewing the most...

Craggus’ Countdown To Infinity: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Craggus' Countdown To Infinity: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Rejected multiple times for military service during World War II, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top-secret programme aimed at creating the ultimate soldier. When his qualities put him at the head of the pack, he undergoes an experimental procedure which gives him superhuman strength and...

Ferdinand (2017) Review

Ferdinand (2017) Review

Adapted from Munro Leaf’s beloved 1936 children’s book, Blue Sky Studio’s “Ferdinand” is also a remake of Disney’s 1938 Silly Symphony short of the same story. In light of the proposed acquisition of Fox by Disney, this movie offers an interesting example of the differences between the two...