The First Purge

Horror outfit Blumhouse Productions enjoyed a surprise hit with The Purge (2013), set in a dystopian near future in which the U.S. government thins the herd each year by suspending all laws against violent crime for a 12-hour period. This prequel (actually the fourth in the series) reveals that the practice began as a social-science experiment dreamed up by moony academic Marisa Tomei (who predicts “a freeing violence”), backed by the totalitarian New Founding Fathers of America political party, and confined to the mostly white Staten Island. The action centers on a housing project where a powerful drug dealer becomes the unlikely defender of the black and Hispanic residents, and the night’s cascading mayhem includes a white-supremacist gun assault on a black Baptist church. Unfortunately the characters are so poorly written that the political provocations hang in the air like birthday balloons. Gerard McMurray directed a script by James DeMonaco, who dreamed up the whole franchise.