‘The First Purge’ Is a ‘Garish’ B-Movie Wrapped in Violent Political Allegory, Critics Say

Film stars Lex Scott Davis, Y’Ian Noel, Joivan Wade and Marisa Tomei.

The reviews are in for “The First Purge,” and the consensus is… mixed. With about 45 reviews in and counted by Rotten Tomatoes, “The First Purge” currently has an average score of 47 percent.

Directed by Gerard McMurray (“Burning Sands”)and starring Lex Scott Davis (“Superfly”), Y’Ian Noel (“Insecure”), Joivan Wade (“Doctor Who”) and Marisa Tomei, the film is a prequel to the hit Blumhouse franchise exploring creation of the “crime is legal for 12 hours a year” national holiday, and its first test group: The residents of Staten Island, New York.

“‘The Purge’ has never been subtle before, and it doesn’t start now: McMurray’s film argues that institutionalized violence only appeals to social classes who already have power. Strip away the propaganda, and The Purge is nothing more than thinly-disguised genocide,” wrote TheWrap’s own William Bibbiani.

Overall critics are applauding director McMurray’s of the moment take on the concept and its uncompromising political pov. But some dinged the relatively small stakes, and still others noted the film’s hopeful-ish ending is pretty damned depressing since it happens before the three prior films.

The film hits theaters on July 4. Here’s more of what TheWrap’s Bibbiani and other critics are saying about the film:

William Bibbiani, TheWrap

“But the problem with making a movie about the least eventful Purge is that you’re making a movie about the least eventful Purge. A lot of ‘The First Purge’ involves the creators of this new holiday wondering aloud why nothing is happening yet, and it’s not unreasonable for the audience to wonder the same thing. ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ and ‘The Purge: Election Year’ were wildly eventful mayhem machines, and ‘The First Purge’ de-escalates the violence to a noticeable degree.

‘The First Purge’ may have toned down the insanity, but as the most political ongoing horror franchise, this series is only getting more interesting. The previous film, ‘Election Year,’ ended with a Hillary Clinton-type winning the presidency, and the end of The Purge seemed nigh; then the real-life political tide turned, and now it’s even more topical than ever. There are many who have argued that America is tipping towards totalitarianism, and a fictionalized depiction of the final step into true dystopian horror is fascinating and relevant. That’s what makes it terrifying.”

David Fear, RollingStone

“This is a movie, in other words, that begins with that nihilistic aforementioned exchange and ends with an inspiring three word mantra – ‘Now we fight’ – while a growing African-American and Latinx crowd begins to march on those that have oppressed them and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Alright’ plays on the soundtrack. Only this is a prequel and we already know the end game: total authoritarian crackdown and a populace willing to killing each other once a year so the 1-percent maintain a rancid status quo. Who needs a coherent text when you’ve got all this American carnage to watch? ‘The First Purge’ isn’t the beginning of the end of the franchise, just the start of where the narrative’s “civility” starts to erode and where that leads. You’re always aware that you’re watching a B-movie narrative. You have to keep reminding yourself that it’s a work of fiction.”

Karen Han, IndieWire

“Maybe it was inevitable that the franchise would circle around so far that it’d begin to eat its own tail. There no longer seems to be a point or message to be conveyed by the violence that the Purge incites; an early thread about how crime doesn’t pay is abandoned as the criminals in question turn out to be heroes, rolling out as the neighborhood’s defense squad without circling back to the fact that the drugs they deal are detrimental to the community. (It doesn’t help that some of the characters are caricatures and stereotypes, ranging from cartoonish drug addict to sassy friend.) It’s also strange to watch the film vacillate between damning violence against these people, and then turning around to condone — or even cheer — violence against others. The point about inequality, or at least any sense of nuance within it, gets lost in the mix.”

Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times

“One of the purest strengths of ‘The First Purge’ is that, like the other movies, it doesn’t in any way feel like a polemic. The rhetoric of the NFFA is just passable enough to seem plausible, chiefly conveyed by actor Patch Darragh as a doughy, duplicitous chief of staff who wears his arrogant privilege like another tacky lapel pin. It’s not difficult to decipher where McMurray and DeMonaco’s true allegiances are, but by delivering the story within the framework of genre cinema at its most trashy and garish, the filmmakers convey any message as a bit of rough pleasure amid the kicks and thrills of a movie.”

Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times

“Directed by Gerard McMurray (who lived through the government’s neglectful response to Hurricane Katrina), ‘The First Purge’ is firmly committed to the power of resistance, personified by a small band of locals who fight to protect their community. Juxtaposing a clinical control bunker, where mainly white operatives observe the gory action, with a neighborhood church where overwhelmingly black and Latino residents huddle in fear, the movie insists that the sidelines are not an option. In the end, even Skeletor will learn where his true loyalties lie.”