Prequel treads familiar ground
The First Purge (15)
The fourth entry in the dystopian horror series goes back to the very beginning as we see how the annual Purge came into being.
Yep, we’re in prequel territory and will have to wait until the next sequel — or the upcoming Purge TV series — to see the filmmakers build on the third movie’s intriguing climax.
That, in itself, is a bit of a shame but the story of how the New Founding Fathers of America introduce the violent experiment of a 24-hour law-free society makes for a fascinating enough alternative.
Though the director of the previous three films, James DeMonaco, returns to script this prequel, he hands over the reins to Gerard McMurray (Burning Sands).
Bar the first entry’s Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey and, to a lesser extent, the sequels’ Frank Grillo, the Purge franchise has been short on big-name stars — and the closest this instalment gets to one is Marisa Tomei (Dr Updale).
The beauty of that, though, is that you never know who is going to make it to the end credits — a welcome boon to any horror flick — and because none of the major characters pop up in future movies, all bets are off here.
It adds to the tension and in a divided United States under Donald Trump’s rule, the release of each Purge film seems to get closer and closer to portraying an America that could one day become a reality — although, hopefully not!
Aesthetically and tonally, The First Purge has more in common with its two previous predecessors as the series veers ever further away from the home invasion-themed original.
McMurray doesn’t change an awful lot of the visual style we’ve come to expect as he utilises creepy masks, spurts of gore and shocking images of humanity gone wrong to project terror.
DeMonaco’s script builds on the third flick’s idea of the powers-that-be playing off the poor and working class as pawns to be easily disposed of to shape their vision of an ideal America.
It’s not very subtle but does help when creating characters to root for in what could easily be a world where anyone’s death means very little to us as an audience.
The issue of race — loosely touched on in the previous entries — comes to the fore here as black residents of Staten Island fight for their very existence against white political figures making increasingly deplorable decisions.
McMurray gets to the heart of his protagonists by shooting them up close, often using handheld cameras, while the baddies get more widescreen, glamorous treatment.
Fans of the series are sure to lap up what is another entertainingbut-downbeat instalment.
But for everyone else, the lack of subtlety, characters’ silly decisionmaking and shaky ideology will leave them hoping The First Purge is also the last.
Political power The American people are used as pawns