“The First Purge” (2018) isn’t the best horror-thriller I’ve ever seen, but it certainly isn’t the worst, either. I thought that I would be all purged out by now, but this fourth entry in the film series is a solid prequel — I’d rate it an 8 out of 10. (There is also a TV show set in “The Purge” universe, which USA has renewed for a second season, and I’m told that it’s pretty good.) I suppose this is a durable franchise because its premise could be explored through countless different characters.
The movie has some weaknesses. The pacing is off, and you could argue that the political theme of “The Purge” films, though compelling, is getting redundant by now. (There are some specific jabs this time out at Donald Trump and his following; they’re heavy-handed, but they’re fun to spot.)
But “The First Purge” is still a suspenseful and disturbing dystopian horror film. It’s got a terrific bad guy in Rotimi Paul’s “Skeletor” psychopath and some surprisingly damned good action sequences. There is another difference here, too — this “Purge” is far less campy than the second and third films. There are fewer plot twists, fewer over-the-top characters, and far fewer trippy visuals — it feels more like a straight horror film instead of a zany one. Depending on your preferences, you might find it superior.
One more thing — given its obvious love for Staten Island, this film would make a great double-feature with “Bushwick” (2017), another thriller which seems like a love letter to its own setting in Brooklyn. And they are both urban neighborhood thrillers with a similar storytelling style.