Many horror films serve one simple function — frighten the audience. While The First Purge is not lacking in gratuitous violence, jump-scares, and suspense, its allegorical nature leaves viewers with a deeper, and perhaps more realistic, kind of fear – one of a grim dystopia that could potentially occur in our own world.
The film acts as a prequel to the previous three, elaborating on how all crime, including murder, came to be legal for one night with the hope that it would lower crime rates in the long run. In reality, the Purge is a way for corrupt politicians to curb the population of its poorest and most vulnerable members.
The initial “experiment” is slated to take place on Staten Island, in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood where individuals who agree to participate in this night of crime are financially compensated based on the severity of their deeds.
The film stars two up and coming actors: Y’lan Noel as Dmitri, the tragic hero drug dealer with a heart of gold, and Lex Scott Davis as Nya, the outspoken anti-Purge activist who is willing to go to great lengths to protect the people around her. There are many parallels in the movie to real-life events; for example, the scene in which the predominantly black and Latino neighborhood takes shelter in a church while violent white supremacists rally outside draws similarities to The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. There is also a scene toward the end where mercenaries sent in by the government sweep the floors of a low-income housing project, ruthlessly gunning down everyone in their path.
This concept is not just some outlandish fabrication of Hollywood horror, but something that has actually occurred throughout history with the rise of fascist leaders and government. Fortunately, Dmitri, Nya and her younger brother Isaiah are not going down without a fight, and proceed to devise many creative ways to outsmart their attackers.
While some seem to think that the violence and gore of the film is so over-the-top that the true message is lost, I argue that it is simply a vehicle to draw in younger people, in order to expose them to the underlying implications of racism and classism in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. The previous Purge films, while still containing many of the same themes, were far less developed in comparison.
It is obvious that the filmmakers drew much inspiration from current events, and imagined a dystopia that is not so unthinkable after all. The film ultimately leaves us with one question: “What happens now?”