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Movie Review

Crime is rampant. Unemployment is sky-high. The American dream is all but a pipe dream.

What’s the solution? More government aid? More incentives to help people help themselves?

Here’s an idea: How about a night of frenzied emotional release—a night when literally everything goes, when murder is not only tolerated but encouraged?

That sounds just dandy to America’s upstart controlling party, the New Founding Fathers of America. The major parties have tried everything else, they believe: Why not give government-sanctioned murder a shot?

Not that the NFFA would go into such a radical social experiment half-cocked, as it were. They’ve got a respected scientist, Dr. Updale, in tow. She alleges that the problem with society is that we’ve grown too distant from our feral roots. Not only does America need a few fewer people in it, but we citizens need a release—a way to let our primal instincts roar. And it’s not like the NFFA is going to just throw open the doors for national anarchy. No, they’ll just have a controlled Purge for one night in just one place: Staten Island.

Alas, some of the residents of Staten Island have a problem with this. Community activist Nya thinks the whole experiment is barbaric. Local drug kingpin, Dmitri (who goes by “D” and happens to be Nya’s old boyfriend), doesn’t quite trust the government’s motives, either. Sure, he’s no stranger to killing. But mass, open-season murder? Yeah, that can’t be good for business.

Frankly, not many residents thing the Purge is a good thing, exactly. But the money … that's something else. The government promises to hand anyone who stays on the Island $5,000—life-changing cash for many. And if residents participate in the Purge—that is, if they pick up a knife and carve up a few folks along the way—well, they can expect some lucrative bonuses, too.

Yep, the Purge is going to happen, no matter how much Nya screams or D scowls. And with it, the country could get a whole new definition of the land of the free … and the home of the brave.

Positive Elements

The First Purge, like other entries in this stubbornly enduring franchise, isn’t just about gratuitous, wanton violence: These movies have an intended point. And while that message has grown a bit more one-dimensional with each sequel, this fourth film in the franchise ostensibly tries, like most of the others, to encourage us to consider how we deal with the poorest among us.

Moreover, this Purge movie tells us (for a brief moment or two) that governmental members of NFFA aren’t the only bad guys doing damage to the poorest rungs of society. Nya confronts D: The Purge is a terrible, unimaginable tragedy; but it’s just one night. D’s “business” rips at the fabric of the neighborhood the other 364 days of the year as well, she says.

“We all have to make choices in life,” she tells him. “To heal or to hurt, and you chose the latter.”

D knows his livelihood is no good. He tries to protect Nya’s little brother, Isaiah, from getting involved in it (to no avail). And when the Purge takes an unexpected turn, D seems to turn from neighborhood bad guy into Staten Island protector … though it remains unclear as to whether he’s actually turning his back on his former trade.

Spiritual Content

Faith is seen as a positive, if not powerful, force here. Dr. Updale says that for the Purge to work, citizens have to abandon their basic moral tenants, which are often bound up in religion. So when Nya and some of her neighbors try to find a safe port in the Purge storm, they go to Nya’s church. “Pray, not Purge,” the sign out front says, and it references Galatians 5:16 (“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”) The pastor plans to offer a sermon during the evening, though Nya’s friend Dolores is less than enthused. “Pastor’s a wonderful man, but his sermons bore me to death,” she admits. We see crosses and inspirational messages on the church's walls.

The church provides scant protection, though. A group of suspiciously organized Purgers (dressed to remind viewers of white supremacists) attack the church and apparently shoot and kill several people taking refuge there.

The Pope is namechecked as a vehement opponent of the Purge. Someone notes how the Purge feels like the days of the Roman gladiatorial games all over again, saying, “Are we going to be the Christians or the lions?” he asks. Someone mentions an unholy baptism.

Sexual Content

Two people engage in obvious sex out on a car hood. (We see explicit movements that avoid nudity.) Two older women who say they’ve been regularly mocked take part in the Purge: It's possibly implied that they were the targets of derision because of their same-sex relationship, though we’re not given a clear indication one way or another. We hear references to Nya and D’s former romance. Several people dress provocatively and dance sensually (sometimes kissing their partners) at a “Purge party.”

One of D’s henchmen apparently sends two women up to D’s office to help him pass the time. Both writhe and flirt. While they don’t remove any clothes, their outfits still expose plenty of skin. One makes movements that suggest she’s interested in performing oral sex. But turns out, sex really isn’t on either of the women’s minds, as we'll see in the next section.

Violent Content

The two women attack D: One of the dealer’s henchmen decided to use the Purge to make a play for D’s lucrative business, and the females are his intended assassins. They try to stab D in the back. When that fails, they fight, kick and hit him, smashing a bottle or two over his head as well. (D fights back, beating the women to protect himself and eventually pinning both to the ground by their necks.)

But as violent as that scene is, it's just one among a myriad of intensely violent images onscreen. The Purge’s fictional creators want the evening to be filled with bloodletting, and so it is. We see dozens upon dozens of people shot, those wounds often accompanied by outlandish sprays of blood. Others are stabbed, with some victims receiving a dozen knife blows or more. One would-be killer straps syringes to his fingers, apparently hoping to inject his victims with whatever toxic substance he's loaded into them. We watch as someone chokes the life of someone else, the victim's face turning red and his eyes growing bloodshot. A couple of characters get sliced across the neck with razors (though non-lethally).

The Purge's architects have given many participants contact lenses to record everything they do; between those cameras and surveillance footage, we see loads of people shot, beaten with bats and other implements and, in one case, dragged helplessly behind a truck. Bodies litter streets and hall floors, often lying in pools of blood. Crimson gore splatters and stains walls as well.

Nya is attacked by a baby-faced character who grabs at her crotch, apparently trying to rape her, before Nya sprays him with mace.

Some people are killed in an explosion. Someone limps around with an obviously injured leg. After the Purge, surviving Staten Island citizens sport a variety of injuries.

[Spoiler Warning] While some of the murders (or assaults) are passion-filled acts perpetrated by obviously unhinged participants, others have the aura of well-organized assassinations carried out by trained professionals. We learn that Arlo Sabian, the NFFA’s Chief of Staff, brought in professional mercenaries when Staten Island’s residents weren’t violent enough. As such, some of those cold-blooded executions feel even more disturbing than the passionately uncorked carnage we see elsewhere.

Crude or Profane Language

About 70 f-words, 40 s-words and a legion of other vulgarties and slurs, including “a--,” “b--ch,” “b--tard,” “d--n,” “h---,” “p-ss,” “p---y” and uses of the n-word. God’s name is misused three times, twice with “d--n.” Jesus’ name is abused four times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

People smoke what appear to be marijuana joints. D is a drug dealer, and we see a great deal of his bricked merchandise. The young women who visit D snort some cocaine. A woman takes a swig of liquor from a flask in a pastor’s office. We hear a reference to the opioid epidemic.

Other Negative Elements

Race relations—or the lack thereof—are central to the political violence of The First Purge, and the references aren’t at all subtle. Though many of the killers are mercenaries without, presumably, an explicit racial axe to grind, they’re nevertheless dressed up in racially charged getups—outfits that reference the KKK, white supremacist groups, Nazis and, yes, the police. A couple of would-be assassins wear blackface masks.

The NRA is namechecked as one of the NFFA’s earliest backers—something that many NRA members will likely take exception to. We see people loot and pillage, and someone’s killed while trying to rob an ATM machine.

We hear a crude reference to what one man's anatomy smells like.

Conclusion

The Purge films have always been pointed, political message movies. From 2013's The Purge onward, the franchise’s tension has been predicated upon pitting the haves against the have-nots in a politically expedient slaughter. While someone suggests that being poor is not a crime, that’s clearly not the case in this dystopian future. (Preachy parallels to our contemporary economic imbalances aren't hard to spot here, either.)

The first films in the franchise touched on the sense that civilization hangs by a thread—that a small shove or a one-night excuse can turn us all into killers, capable of doing the most inhuman things. As horrific as these movies are, there’s a kernel of Christian truth in there: We are all sinners. And we’re all capable of some pretty terrible things without the love and help of Christ.

But any sense of humanity’s sinful, fallen nature has all but fallen by the wayside here, though. The First Purge has its share of crazies to be sure, but they are, indeed, crazy. It takes governmental action—a forceful push—to send the Purge in the cataclysmic, “cleansing” direction they wish it to go.

The First Purge tries to provoke viewers to think more deeply about the issues of social, racial and economic inequality. But too often, it arguably stokes the fires of the very rage it seeks to critique.

The Purge films seem to be getting increasingly violent, and let’s face it: They were plenty violent to begin with. I kinda hope this movie itself is purged from theaters, and quickly.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Y'lan Noel as Dmitri; Lex Scott Davis as Nya; Joivan Wade as Isaiah; Mugga as Dolores; Patch Darragh as Chief of Staff Arlo Sabian; Marisa Tomei as Dr. Updale; Luna Lauren Velez as Luisa; Kristen Solis as Selina; Rotimi Paul as Skeletor

Director

Gerard McMurray ( )

Distributor

Universal Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

July 4, 2018

On Video

October 2, 2018

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

Content Caution

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Teens
Adults
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