Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it, but those who do not see The First Purge are going to be fine. At the very least, the next Purge movie will likely offer up a similar mix of schlocky thrills, fake deep politics, and fleeting moments of genuine catharsis. This prequel to the popular horror series, which has already spawned three movies and a television series coming to cable this fall, is based on the premise that audiences want to know more about the backstory of the New Founding Fathers of America, a powerful group of elected officials who have instituted a national "purge" where all crime, including murder, is legal for 12 hours. As you'd imagine, these are not movies about credit card fraud.
When the series kicked off with 2013's The Purge, an Ethan Hawke-starring home-invasion thriller with a touch of high-concept post-Hunger Games dystopian terror, there was a minimal amount of science-fiction world-building going on in the background. The movie was more concerned with the cat-and-mouse game going on in the house than the world outside. Each successive Purge movie has opened up the series both geographically and thematically, upping the contemporary allegorical details so much that 2016's The Purge: Election Year followed a blonde U.S. Senator played by Elizabeth Mitchell running for President. In The Purge's timeline, she won.
Instead of following the fallout of the last movie, The First Purge goes back to where all this bloodshed began by zeroing in on the Staten Island community where the New Founding Fathers first staged their experiment. But director Gerard McMurray and writer James DeMonaco, who wrote and directed the previous films, still manage to evoke a wide range of ripped-from-the-headlines anxieties. References to contemporary societal ills fly even faster than the bullets and the machetes: rampant unemployment, the subprime mortgage crisis, the opioid epidemic, and rising protests all get name-checked in the opening minutes. It's horror bathed in the glow of a cable news chyron.