Movie Review: The Horrors of the Present inform “The First Purge”

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In “The First Purge,” the Apocalypse is now.

The most politically potent sci-fi/horror film series since the early years of George A. Romero gets a bloody, visceral and yes, emotional prequel with “The First Purge,” the movie that tells how we got from “here” to “there.”

Turns out, it’s a damned short trip.

Yeah, they’re all B-movies. But when the satire is this overt, when “p—-y grabbing” villains do the dirty work of an NRA-backed, Russian colluding political party that decides to set up “the experiment,” a single night of rage-venting about the “death of the American dream,” when the victims are generally black and brown and don’t seem as “random” as was promised,  you’re not just looking at a kill-or-be-killed splatter pic. You’re getting a hard-nosed Civics lesson about America as it is right now.

This is about how the New Founding Fathers Party seized power and used a scientist’s (Marisa Tomei) theories about human venting of rage to stage a test of their “one night of lawlessness, get it out of your system” purges. It will be on Staten Island. You can leave, but if you’re poor, you’re stuck. You’re even given financial incentive to “participate,” violent people given camera-contact lenses and tracking devices so the experiment can be “monitored.”

Gang members who’d like to be gang-leaders, off-the-hook psychotics like the deranged junkie Skeletor (Rotimi Paul, a scream) and an aspiring gang banger wanting revenge on Skeletor (Joivan Wade) all take to the streets when the sirens sound.

“I got my list,” one and all declare.

But there’s pushback from the sane, the righteous, be they preachers or protesters like Nya (Lex Scott Davis), who happens to be Isaiah’s sister. They’ve organized sanctuary buildings like churches, and defiant “We’re not falling for this” street parties.

So Big Brother has to put his Russian-flavored finger on the scales. Marauding mobs of AK-47 armed KKK, helmeted “Blue Lives Matter” cops and convoys of borscht-eating mercenaries amp up the mayhem.

And caught in the literal middle of all this is Dmitri, the dapper mobster played by Y’lan Noel of TV’s “The Hustle.” He’s worried about his drug business, fretting that others will use the night as cover for a power play, not trusting this government to play fair. Normal people, he knows, aren’t murderous. “Killing comes from our damaged hearts.”

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When it all goes down, which way will Dmitri lean?

If you’re going to remake “Superfly,” you could do a lot worse than the charismatic Noel, of TV’s “The Hustle” and “Insecure.” But he still got to make his Blaxsploitation film, a gangster rolling through chaos in a Mercedes SUV with lieutenants all around him, riding to the rescue like an underworld cavalry.

This “Purge” cuts to the chase, starkly highlighting the racial divisions exploited by the NRA (on billboards) and others to distract the masses from seeking out the real villains.

The script leans too heavily on comic archetypes (mouthy neighbor) and “neighborhood” stereotypes, the saintly Latina mom and her innocent daughter, the sage “Three Wise Men” (Steve Harris is their leader) of the block.

But producer (“Fruitvale Station”) turned director Gerard McMurray keeps the action horrific in between the pause-for-conversation interludes, and builds to a furious climax. Yeah, it fits in just before the other “Purge” movies are set.

The result is exploitation with an edge, not on a par with “Get Out,” but alarming and perfectly recognizable down to the media coverage. Van Jones is here. Where are the expected Purge cheerleaders like Hannity and Alex Jones?

“Infowars” bloviator Jones must have seen the “Purge” TV commercials and been inspired to say “The Second Civil War” starts July 4. He’s confused, as usual. No, a movie opens, one that turns the gun back on him and those like him, the dividers, those who attack minorities, the Constitution and the rule of law.

Four “Purge” movies in five years, you’d think the message would have sunk in.

 

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MPAA Rating: R for strong disturbing violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use

Cast: Y’an Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Jovian Wade, Marisa Tomei, Patch Darragh

Credits:Directed by Gerard McMurray, script by James DeMonaco. A Blumouse/Universal release.

Running time: 1:37

 

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