Friday, July 13, 2018

The Overlook Theatre Reviews: The First Purge

6 of 6 viewers "Liked" "First Purge" (2018, USA)
Creature reviews have been minimally altered in an attempt to maintain their voice:

The Berkeley Blazer - "The Purge films have always come across to me like the marketing team for 7-11 decided to make a politically relevant horror movie i.e. too dumb to take seriously, too self-serious to enjoy, as well as expressing a neck-beard nihilistic take on human nature. Before buying a ticket, I was torn between the fun of reviewing a film with the Overlook crew and financially supporting cultural poison. The First Purge (FP) reverses everything I hated about this franchise, and in the process gives us an diverting (if lesser) tonal blend of They Live and The Wire.  FP eschews neckbesrdism and opts for a relatively optimistic view of the underclass. It unsubtly employs Trumpism and alt-right culture as the unambiguous antagonist, and in doing so subverts the series trademark Manichaeist populism into a conflict that is actually palatable to take sides in.  Y’lan Noel (from HBOs Insecure) and Lex Scott Davis give us compelling co-protagonists who’s survival we have a stake in.  Refreshingly, all the protagonists are people of color who have distinct personalities, while still adhering to fun sense of bravura (for instance, the wild card character is a slender-manic addict named Skeletor who stalks the streets with Loganesque syringes and facial scar tattoos). So why only a 3.5? It’s simply not as good or memorable as the above-mentioned titles.  Lorde B. and I were discussing how at one point the film loses its voice and feel like a different (albeit still fun) movie. Diverting yet forgettable, FP  will hopefully be a sign of what’s to come for this franchise." - 3.5 Stars

Lord Battle - "Who knew that The First Purge would be my clear favorite of the franchise? Or that the Staten Island projects would house a microcosm that I would later compare to David Simon's The Wire, both in approach and in use of characters? And I know no one expected that halfway through the film we'd hit a pop-culture/taboo climax that would break the film and send our Omar Little, re-dubbed Skeletor, armed like wolverine, flourishing like Freddy into the shadows and focus solely on Trump America being taken down one Rammstein singer at a time, by John Mclane using gunkata... The First Purge was fun until it wasn't and WTF is a Purge party anyway?" - 3.5 Stars

Math Mage - "I wanted the evil guy to say (instead of "we have a situation") "we have a Mclane". I would expect professional evil minions to have a protocol for this likely currance in the fantasy world of the Purge. I say fantasy world because mute ninja sidekicks, gunkata and bombproof mattresses (Slowest. Explosion. Ever.) are not part of any sensible reality. Gun drones and video contacts maybe, but C4 specifically doesn't explode when shot. The urban fantasy of the Purge always got a pass from me since they only explain its origins in the broadest terms, now forced to get specific (by painting themselves into a corner) the film suffers from trying to impose a rational explanation of an inherently ridiculous premise. The ridiculousness also gets in the way of the movie trying to say something. Yes, the system encourages poor people to kill each other but even if it does do so because of a secret cabal of racists, those racists gain nothing by making it more explicit. The NFFA (... Huh, they didn't have an acronym before...) claims that they tried other options but plainly the Purge was their goal the whole time (if the viral human sacrifice theory in the 3 past movies is still canon). Also I thought the New Founding Fathers were a military cosplay based on the first 3 merging. Other issues, a movie about racism doesn't mention race even once (not even officially, a comment about the invaders being "demographically unrepresentative" would have worked). A franchise where the US military has been explicit enemy twice goes out of its way to say the invaders are foreign mercenaries [Why do you feel it's important to say that?]. Our heroic noble gangster has no arguments (not even bad ones) when his ex calls him out for being a gangster. No one points out the obvious flaws in the purge system (to be fair the filmmakers don't seem to be aware of them). Despite my complaints I enjoyed the film, especially the third act where it goes totally DIE HARD (he even wears a wife beater to remove all doubt), though the curiously optimistic ending remains at odds with the world of the sequels (I expected the primary cast to be killed and a supporting character credited with their murder)." - 3.5 Stars

The Impostor - "I've always had a love/ hate relationship with the Purge series. The Purge (2013) started it all, the premise alone intrigued me but I realized it was underwhelming considering there's so much that can happen but it took place in a home with one family. A year later the sequel subtitled Anarchy gave us a bit more of what I expected from the original and I enjoyed it probably the most of the series. 2016 gave us Election Year and I knew this series has run its course. The First Purge takes us back to how it all began and I actually enjoyed it. It's more of a real life horror than anything, with everything happening in society at the moment. There were a few stand out characters I was rooting for and hoping made it out of this event. I will say the film felt a bit uneven as it progressed, almost like it lost its vision. The first part of the film set up and rushed an action packed ending. One highlight for me was Skeletor. He creeped me out a bit and was insanely blood thirsty, which meant he's my kinda slasher for sure! Overall good prequel in a decent franchise. It kept me more entertained than I thought it would." - 3 Stars

Wandering Panda - "Finally!!! I've always said that the Purge film series has a great idea but poor execution, but The First Purge is leaps above its predecessor. The characters are more fleshed out and the choice of Staten Island, NY is perfect for the chaos. The racial tension is apparent but not in your face about it. My only negative is that I question Dmitri's abilities in combat, it got a little silly for me and broke my immersion. But all in all The first Purge is a step in the right direction. - 4 Stars

Huntress - "Although it was flawed and had several obnoxious scenes, this was easily my favorite of the Purge movies that I've seen (which is all but the second one). This was also the first time I realized how annoying the lack of division between church and state was, especially since they include a prayer in the message that initiates the Purge. I'd think that if you were trying to get people to partake in government-sanctioned chaos, religion would be the last thing you should incite. This movie made the strange decision to portray the low-income population of Staten Island as a close knit community, where the only violence is barely worse than college hazing. Then there's the drug kingpin/community basketball coach character we're supposed to believe is the same boy-next-door that he was in childhood and that he doesn't react a certain way when his ex-girlfriend physically punks him and his security guard out... I admit that most of my problems with The First Purge (as well as its predecessors) are in the writing and I cannot think of a scenario where I would be entirely happy with any of these movies. But I also will say that this was the most enjoyable, especially after Election Year, which I can't even say the name of without groaning. I particularly liked the glowing contact lenses that teased POV cinema and gave everyone participating in Purge Night an inhuman silhouette. This prequel wasn't as politically preachy as Election Year but is still inherently riddled with the kind of propaganda I don't want in my horror movies." - 3 Stars

The Overlook Theatre Final Rating*
(Below is for after you've seen the film)

Last year I ended up complaining about A24's It Comes At Night. The trailer promised horror but I walked out of the theater thinking political. I saw a post-apocalyptic film lacking monsters (other than the human kind) and because of the atmosphere of Trump dread in the bay area, I ended up projecting a political meaning onto the film (although I was not alone).
Why does any of this matter? Because I had a lot of fun at The First Purge screening. The Purge franchise always delivers on excellent lobby conversation! It seems absurd, but no matter how good, bad, or disinterested the creatures are before/after the film, everyone still talks about how they would have changed the movie. I don't mean as far as casting or directing, but pure story/character conversations. The Purge has such a large idea at its core that it's either too narrow a view (like the first film), to fantastical (the second), to political (the third), or disjointed (the 4th) to not discuss what we would have changed. It couldn't be a more interesting look at how friends would mold/construct a story with a huge sandbox premise like the Purge.
Next time another Purge film comes out, or you're bored on a Saturday night. Grab a fellow movie monster and watch a Purge film. Then do what we do here at the Overlook every week and discuss what you did/didn't like and really dissect the film. We shouldn't do this with only films we like. Understanding what we don't like about cinema/storytelling in general is the only way we grow.

- Lord Battle

The Overlook Theatre materialized at Century Theatres for a screening on 7/5/2018
*Based on the star ratings turned in by character reviewers, others viewed and got to "Dislike" or "Like" but that does not affect the rating.

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