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Can ‘The First Purge’ be the last?

Andy Moser, Features Editor

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The Purge franchise has gotten the prequel treatment. What does this mean for the franchise? As it turns out, nothing other than that no matter how many times this series tries to be relevant commentary, it never rises above cheap scares and fetishized violence.

Writer James DeMonaco, who helmed the first three entries, abandons any meaningful attempt to parallel shady political tactics targeting low-income citizens in the real world, save for a few spoon-fed tidbits that the story can’t help but lean on to hammer its point home. Instead, the focus largely remains on sheer brutality, gore and an abundance of guns, the latter of which is arguably shown to be the heroes, rather than the people themselves.

Even when the people are on screen, director Gerard McMurray (Burning Sands) shifts our attention to the weapons they carry, expecting us to gawk at the various pistols, rifles and automatic weapons and their destructive potential. The film goes on to indulge that potential, with bullets ripping through bodies and killing large numbers of people in short amounts of time.

Universal Pictures

Fight sequences are choppy at best. McMurray’s transitions are clunky and disorienting, especially during a staircase sequence that may have been influenced by Atomic Blonde (2017) but can’t remotely pretend to rival its quality in direction and choreography. The film also deploys a series of glaringly tacky visual effects, some of which include bright, glowing contact lenses and a fiery explosion that looks like it burst straight out of Windows Moviemaker. In the last act, a blinding light periodically flashes from an emergency alarm in an attempt to create atmosphere, but it does nothing more than make you feel like somebody is repeatedly shining their iPhone flashlight in your face.

As a horror film, First Purge disintegrates every time it concedes its inability to deliver well-earned thrills, favoring cheap jump scares instead. When it realizes it can’t scare you on its own terms, it cranks up the volume and assaults you with a slew of ungodly sounds that shouldn’t even be perceptible in the fictional world. A masked character will leap out from behind a dark corner, but we’ll hear a sharp mechanical sound blasting from the speakers for some reason. It’s easily the most offensive use of sound in cinema this year, and it’s more angering than it is terrifying.

If there’s something The First Purge succeeds in, it’s believing it is smarter, smoother and scarier than it is. If you’re going to make the ill-advised decision to pay money to see it, at least do yourself a favor and purge your expectations beforehand.

Sails: 0.5/5

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Can ‘The First Purge’ be the last?