Film review: The First Purge a redundant and predictable horror prequel
FIVE years ago, before the possibility of Donald Trump as US president was a pungent whiff in the air, writer-director James DeMonaco terrified cinema audiences with The Purge.
His bloodthirsty horror thriller unfolded on the one night when citizens of America are permitted to arm themselves with knives and guns to kill anyone they choose without fear of legal reprisals.
The film spawned two sequels and now Gerard McMurray replaces DeMonaco in the director's chair for a redundant and predictable prequel, which traces the origins of the carnage to a sociological experiment in one borough of New York City.
The First Purge doesn't advance the franchise's narrative other than to pin the blame for the slaughter on one female behavioural scientist.
DeMonaco's script makes familiar arguments about race and class divisions while it aims barbs squarely at the rampant fearmongering of the current US administration.
Balletic, slow-motion death sequences are strikingly similar to skirmishes in other instalments and the words of defiance that punctuate the final scene suggest that we may yet return to this barbaric vision of hell on Earth.
Voter disillusionment with the two-party system of Republicans versus Democrats gives birth to a radical force: The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA). The new kid on the political block sweeps to power with a mandate to restore the country to greatness.
"The American Dream is dead," proclaims NFFA president Bracken (Ian Blackman). "We will do whatever it takes to let you dream again!"
The party proposes a radical solution to spiralling crime rates: a sociological experiment conceived by Dr Updale (Marisa Tomei), which will allow residents of Staten Island to vent their rage for 12 hours.
NFFA chief of staff Arlo Sabian (Patch Darragh) explains that locals who stay on the island during the so-called purge will receive $5,000 each. Additionally, participants who spill blood will be rewarded with a sliding scale of financial bonuses depending on their kill rate.
Nya (Lex Scott Davis) and her younger brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade) become embroiled in the madness.
Elsewhere, neighbourhood drug dealer Dmitri (Y'Lan Noel) instructs his lieutenants 7 & 7 (Mo McRae) and Capital A (Christian Robinson) to remain vigilant in case the police use the purge as a cover to take down their operation.
Escalating tensions between protesters and impoverished participants draw battle lines between friends and neighbours.
The First Purge will hopefully be the last word from DeMonaco about this alternate universe of "freeing violence".
Davis invests her heroine with a steely resolve while Noel brings out the protective side of his swaggering bad boy.
The first cut is supposedly the deepest but McMurray's origin story barely leaves a scratch.
THE FIRST PURGE (15, 97 mins) Horror/Thriller/Romance. Y'Lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Marisa Tomei, Patch Darragh, Mo McRae, Christian Robinson, Ian Blackman, Steve Harris. Director: Gerard McMurray
Released: July 4 (UK & Ireland)