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Review: The First Purge – “The best Purge yet”

The First Purge is the fourth entry in Blumhouse’s popular politically charged action-horror franchise, and the first to not be directed by James DeMonaco. Also not present this time around is Frank Grillo who headlined the last two Purge’s. This is no clue to any drop in quality, however. Gerard McMurray (Burning Sands) directs a film starring Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler), Y’lan Noel (Insecure), Lex Scott Davis (Superfly) and Joivan Wade (EastEnders) that is actually the best Purge yet.

The First Purge is a prequel that outlines the factors that led to the Purge being instated and follows a group of heroes attempting to survive the very first experimental trial run. With unemployment off the charts, the economy in the toilet, and an ongoing opioid crisis, a far-right group based on fear-mongering has risen to power in America. Backed by the NRA this new third party allows Dr. Updale (Tomei) to run an experiment on Staten Island.

With bridges and tunnels closed, the island is isolated from the mainland and its low-income inhabitants are offered $5,000 to stay on the island for the “Purge” – where all crime including murder will be legal for 12 hours – and the promise of more money if they actually take part.

Initially, everyone is happy to take the money and hold massive peaceful street parties, but desperate for the underclass to start wiping each other out to remove their “burden” from the economy, the government sneak in ringer gangs of heavily armed Russians, white supremacists and the KKK, to kick things off. In an attempt to fight the regime and protect their block; a drug baron, Dmitri (Noel), his activist ex-girlfriend, Nya (Davis), her brother Isaiah (Wade), and their friends and neighbours band together to stop the government stooges, racists and mercenaries by any means necessary.

Marisa Tomei gets little to do apart from being extremely naïve and pull a “My God, what have I done?!” face when her plan turns out to be a cover for economic genocide. But the rest of the cast more than make up for her shallow screentime. Y’lan Noel excels as Dmitri. His arc is wonderfully played and when he hits his stride turning full action hero to take on a tower block teeming with Nazi-looking stormtroopers he is a magnificent action hero.

This Rambo meets The Raid action sequence may be the pulse-pounding centrepiece, but it only matters so much because McMurray has effortlessly made us care so much about the fate of our protagonists. Davis’ Nya is a righteous badass, and even her softer little brother is supremely likeable, while side characters and bit players alike make you care so much for the neighbourhood standing in for the whole country that you cannot help but take an enormous amount of political catharsis from when they start choking out hood-wearing alt-right arseholes.

A scary, politically charged, action-horror with a message, white knuckles and plenty of bite, The First Purge is not just the best Purge – but a stirring guttural yell in the face of the current political climate.

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