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The Purge franchise returns just in time for the Fourth of July, playing off of our despicable political climate.

The First Purge tells the story of how the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) began and details the roots of the diabolical idea to make crime—including murder—legal for one day out of the year. Considering many of us are fighting for our rights under the Trump administration, the film is certainly relevant. Even Ben Carson reportedly hypothesized a Purge-like America is possible, which could be true if he manages to dismantle fair housing.

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The fourth installment of the franchise is an “experiment” in a poverty stricken Black and Latinx area of Staten Island, New York. Rich white people want to see how many brown folks will kill each other. As one character says, “The American dream is dead. We will do whatever it takes to let you dream again.” Of course this is a take off of “Make America Great Again,” and the way to capture the “again” is to depopulate the lower class.

The intersections of race and class make for an interesting plot line—unfortunately, the script seriously struggles, especially in the first hour. The movie stumbles along with awful dialogue, meaningless characters and little-to-no thrills. In the screening where I saw the film, people gave up and purged out of the theater. However, the second half surprisingly kicked into high gear with Y’lan Noel, best known as Daniel King from Insecure, taking the lead as William. With an interesting backstory, he becomes an unlikely hero, fighting back against the truth of “purguing,” which is to kill off Black, brown and poor people.

Directed by Gerard McMurray and written by James DeMonaco, the movie’s nearly unforgivable flaw is not starting with Noel as the lead.  In the second and third installments, Frank Grillo as Leo Barnes kicked off the film, which set the narrative of Grillo as the flawed hero.

Speaking of the cast, although the film is not being marketed as a Black film, the majority of the cast is Black and Latinx (shout out to the legendary Luna Lauren Velez!). You can’t even remember the names of the handful of white characters, which includes Oscar winner Marisa Tomei. Maybe DeMonaco should have partnered with a writer of color to capture the nuances of race and class that were sloppily inserted. The idea of “purging” is interesting, but it’s disappointing that the storytelling devices weren’t more clever.

The First Purge was damn near terrible, but Daniel from Insecure saved the cinematic day — audiences cheered and clapped for him as he channeled his inner Liam Neeson from Taken. For me, when Noel was allowed to own the second half, the first half of the film became somewhat redeemable.

Even if The Purge isn’t a box office or critical success, Y’lan Noel proved he is a star and can carry a movie with a wonky script.

See the trailer below:

The First Purge is in theaters tomorrow.


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