Watch if you dare: “The First Purge”

Updated: Oct 7, 2018


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW

Brother and sister Isaiah (British actor Joivan Wade) and Nya (Lex Scott Davis) try to survive the First Purge. (Courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

“THE FIRST PURGE”


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2018; R for strong, disturbing violence throughout, pervasive profanity some sexuality and drug use; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Vudu, YouTube


Best extra: “A Radical Experiment”


THE SECRET behind the Purge is out. “The New Founding Fathers of America have a hidden agenda, which is really a class war,” says Producer Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions, the man behind the “Paranormal Activity,” “Purge” and “Insidious” franchises as well as “Get Out,” “Whiplash” and “Split.”


As if we hadn’t guessed.


“The First Purge” is a straightforward reveal. The original “Purge” film (2013), written and directed by James DeMonaco, starred Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey. Like other Blumhouse Productions, it was a surprise, low budget hit, and a terrifying look at a dystopian near-future U.S.A. where citizens could literally get away with murder, and every other felony for 12 hours in an annual “holiday.”


All viewers knew was that it was sanctioned by the president, leader of a new political party, the New Founding Fathers of America – NFFA. DeMonaco went on to write and direct follow-up films “The Purge: Anarchy” (2014) and “The Purge: Election Year” (2016). According to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the franchise has earned more than $300 million worldwide in four years. DeMonaco and Blum are now running a 10 episode miniseries for USA Network.


“The seed of it was something my wife said in a road rage incident,” DeMonaco told HFPA. “We were in Brooklyn driving, and there was a drunk driver who I got into a fight with. He was crazy, and after it was over we were very upset. And my wife said, ‘I wish we all had one free [murder], or one legal one, a year.’ And she’s a nice woman so she really didn’t mean that.”



Nya leads an Anti-Purge rally in the lower income neighborhood of Park Hill on Staten Island.

Buffalo, New York, stands in for Staten Island.

Masks have played a big role during Purge nights.


DeMonaco, who is anti-gun, couldn’t shake that idea. “I thought [it] was a great metaphor for the gun control laws in America or lack thereof,” he said.

While DeMonaco wrote the script for “The First Purge,” Gerard McMurray became director. “As a filmmaker of color, I wanted to address the political issues head on,” he says in “A Radical Experiment,” one of four bonus features on the release from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.


“The First Purge” is a “controlled experiment,” a prequel to the other films and series. Set in the lower income neighborhood of Park Hill on Staten Island, the area is cordoned off for the 12 hour holiday of mayhem. Residents are promised a $5,000 payoff if they stay and participate. The idea is to release pent up anger to reduce violence and crime for a better tomorrow.



NFFA Chief of Staff Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh) and sociologist Dr. May Updale (Marisa Tomei) watch and analyze the 12 hours of the first Purge.


There are protests in the street, the media and other forums. Some residents secure themselves in their home, church or business. Others gather in block parties. NFFA Chief of Staff Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh) and sociologist Dr. May Updale (Marisa Tomei) watch and analyze proceedings via drone and special contact lenses distributed to wannabe Purgers. Events are also broadcast to the public. But aside from local psycho Skeletor (Rotimi Paul), there’s little violence. Outside of the NFFA, he’s the scariest character – and most memorable – in the film. Blood begins to flow when Sabien sends in squads of mercenaries disguised as bikers, clansmen and Nazi SS troop. The world is overpopulated, he says. Like a psychotic Scrooge, he tells Updale it’s time for the poor to die and decrease the surplus population.


Looks like it’s time for local drug kingpin Dmitri (Y’lan Noel) to step in and save the community. Or what’s left of it.


“‘The Purge,’ sadly is more relevant than ever before. And I think that has a lot to do with what’s going on in this country.” — Jason Blum, producer


VIDEO

Digitally shot, “The First Purge” was finished in 2K and upscaled for a good HDR10 4K transfer (2.39:1 ratio), where Buffalo, New York, stands in for Staten Island. Color is natural, but well saturated with bold reds, greens and neon effects particularly in the special contact lenses. They create an eerie effect throughout the film. Shot at night and in dark buildings and rooms with low lighting, contrast, depth and detail is excellent. We can clearly see background items, textures and props. Skeletor’s tribal scars stand out, but so do the emotional reactions from the cast.


The Blu-ray satisfies, but lacks 4K clarity and polish. Both releases look good on smaller screens, but the 4K is best on 60 inches and above. It’s as good, if not better, than the theatrical release.


AUDIO

It is constant, complete immersion. Both the 4K and Blu-ray discs have a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack. Dialogue comes through clearly, front and center. Effects are dynamic; the siren signaling the opening and closing of the Purge sends shivers down the spine. Gun battles, motorcycles, rain, blazing fires, explosions, flying drones and a stairwell fight rattle and thunder around the room. Whispers, odd laughter and groans create more subtle effects. Original music is by Kevin Lax who also worked on music selections for “The Walking Dead.” Here, he adds singles from Sheck Wes, Rich the Kid, 1PLAYY, MAESTRO, Dazz Band and other contemporary artists to enhance scenes and emotions.


EXTRAS

They are short, but interesting with filmmaker and cast interviews. A deleted scene with young Joivan Wade, who plays Isaiah, and Paul’s Skeletor is a good denouement to an unfinished story arc.


“A Radical Experiment” and “Bringing the Chaos” present opinions from the filmmakers and cast. Masks have always been a big part of the Purge franchise. “The Masks of ‘The First Purge’” offers a look behind the truly weird and unsettling disguises used in the film.


Without DeMonaco at the helm, “The First Purge” is decidedly different. The mystery behind the event’s creation has been extinguished. There’s less tension and suspense other than learning which character will survive. It’s also the first of the series to be set during the Trump era and all its political and social controversies. 


Les Scott Davis who plays street activist Nya, sums it up: “It’s not the killing that makes it scary. It’s the idea that this could be America one day.”


— Kay Reynolds


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