I have always been a fan of thriller, suspense, horror, and sci-fi genres since I started consuming media. However, the gory genres that usually fall under horror are definitely not my cup of tea. Regardless, I have managed to watch all the Purge films now including the most recent release, The First Purge, 2018. Directed by Gerard McMurray and written by James DeMonaco, I really thought with this combination of minds, this would be the film that justifies why I continue watching these gory films against my better judgement, but alas, no new information, just triggers everywhere. What a mess.
The psychology behind having a purge night at all has always terrified and fascinated me. So fascinating that I keep watching the films hoping for more information to understand how one night of lawlessness could possibly hold long term benefits for any society. Listen, I can definitely be a goodie-two-shoes when it comes to being a law abiding citizen so the idea of having a night exempt of law and order is wild to me — hence the appeal to the film franchise. Unfortunately, the Purge films tend to focus more on the gory details and not so much of the proclaimed psychological background and/or benefits. Which is fair considering it falls under horror and not psychological thriller, so I guess the error was mine for expecting more.
As much as I’m willing to hop onto the celebratory bandwagon of a predominantly black cast film, because representation matters, there is a line and unfortunately The First Purge has crossed it. Sure it is rousing to watch man-candy Dmitri, played by Y’lan Noel, being all sexy and suave — but one good actor cannot save the entire film. Let alone a bad film riddled with tired stereotypes and a heavy dose of political commentary. It’s too much man, way too much. Pair that with a mediocre representation of an overzealous sister, Nya, played by Lex Scott Davis — the film can only go down. Let’s not even talk about the baby-man-brother in the mix, Isaiah played by Joivan Wade — who put this cast together anyway??? So disappointing.
In a nutshell, the film is centred on how the concept of purge night was started as an experiment conducted in the low income area of Staten Island, New York. This area just also happens to be a predominately African-American area with the stereotypes of street corner drug dealing, gangs, single mothers, child-headed homes, dead-end religion, etc etc. Sure we can argue that stereotypes are there for a reason, these narratives actually exist BUT weren’t we gradually moving away from stereotypes and diversifying representation? Wasn’t that what we collectively agreed on subconsciously? Or did McMurray miss the memo? Again, disappointing.
Worst still, the political commentary is lousy AF. Listen, if you’re going to make commentary on themes such as Black Lives Matter, do not do it in slave-flick fashion. Nothing disturbs me more than the continued disrespect of black bodies in the media, it’s all way too Sarah Baartman for my liking. What’s worse is, this film is suppose to be fiction, instead you start feeling like you’re just watching the news on racial tensions with the killing of black people for sport. It is deeply disturbing and shocking considering the director is black — he directed every one of those triggering moments a dead black body is shown on screen and treated with blatant disrespect and inhumanity. My heart could not handle. I can understand the importance and willingness to comment on the political landscape of your society but surely there is a better way to do it. You can’t console a person in pain with repeated visuals portraying the source of that very same pain. If I had known the film would be filled with so many racial triggers, I would’ve opted to watch Django Unchained, 2012; or 12 Years A Slave, 2013; or the 8 o’clock news for a strong dose of reality — at least then I know exactly what I am walking into, no surprises.
On the bright side, it was definitely refreshing to watch Dmitri turn from kingpin drug-lord to a hero of sorts. Sure it was convenient that he was basically un-killable and even his brief monologue on not being able to die was a bit of an overkill. But I can excuse it, I can excuse it given he is the “hot [hero] bae” of the film. I must say, the scene he de-robes is reminiscent of the scene when Killmonger undresses before taking the throne from T’Challa in Black Panther — drool alert! On a serious note though, I particularly enjoyed the power dynamics of when Dmitri finally gets to Nya. Instead of Nya melting in true Hollywood princess-locked-in-a-tower fashion because
man-candy, sorry I mean, knight-in-glistening-melanin had come to the rescue; Dmitri and Nya fight side-by-side to miraculously defeat the conveniently all-white soldiers. Dmitri gets shot but doesn’t die (perhaps he has traces of vibranium in his blood)… Purge night is over and the survivors walk out the building in relief, cool. Then Nya asks, “what are we going to do now?” or something to that effect. To which Dmitri responds, “we fight.” And then Kendrick Lamar’s Alright starts playing… UHM??? WTF? What the actual fudge McMurray? Sloppy, messy, unnecessary. We get it, the state of things in the US is not ideal but this was suppose to be a gory horror film about the beginning of purge night, why is it so documentary-like now? So muddy. I don’t approve, I didn’t come here for this.
All-in-all, of all the Purge films, this was my least favourite. It deviated so much from the idea of the previous purge films and it didn’t have to. This should’ve been the film to finally elaborate extensively on the psychology of purge night, then proceed to join the dots and connect with the previous Purge films. But it ended up being a trigger filled film nobody asked for. We did not need this, we already have the news and social media platforms showing us clips on the unfortunate racial tensions in the US and the world over. I suppose this is what I get for indulging my curiosity with these gory horror films. Never again. Unless you just want to watch rousing man-candy Dmitri spontaneously gain superhuman strength and save the day with his equally aesthetically pleasing and capable ex Nya, don’t waste your time. Rather, watch any of the previous Purge films for a good ol’ gory visuals without overtones of tired African-American stereotypes and unwanted triggers in every scene. Side-note: The Purge: Election Year, 2016 is officially my favourite of the franchise.