Is 'The First Purge' Scary? Spoilers: Movie Shows Origins of Alternate American Society

"Try to remember all the good the Purge does."
Journalists take photos of a costume from The Purge on display during Universal Studios' 'Halloween Horror Nights' on August 27, 2013 in Universal City, California. JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

Directed by Gerard McMurry and written by James DeMonaco, The First Purge is a prequel to the other movies in the Purge franchise, telling the story of how the Purge first came to be an accepted part of American culture.

The First Purge offers a closer look at the mythology of the Purge universe, in an alternate America where crime is legal for 12 hours every year, pushing audiences into the origins of the night that started their slogan: "The American Dream is dead, we'll do whatever it takes to let you dream again."

What began as an experiment designed by behavior scientist, Dr. May Updale (Marisa Tomei), was first contained to Staten Island, New York. In order to ensure participants, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) promised monetary compensation, mostly attracting the impoverished members of the local community. Over the course of the night, the Purge is not eliciting the desired results, with many preferring to loot, vandalize, and party. The NFFA releases mercenaries disguised as citizens in order to increase the body count.

The movie gives audiences someone to root for in Dmitri (Y'lan Noel, Insecure), a local crime lord whose life and career is built on violence, and Nya (Lex Scott Davis, Superfly), a young activist who protests the Purge from the beginning. With a handful of jumpscares and some terrifying masked murderers, The First Purge is less of a horror film, and more of a violent, action-packed, protect-the-block antihero scenario.

The First Purge relies heavily on its images: a black man strangles a white man wearing a blackface caricature mask to death, crushing his windpipe. A woman fights masked men attempting to assault her and runs away shouting. A hoard of armed Klansmen in full regalia are brutally slaughtered (this scene was met with cheers from the audience).

"As a filmmaker, showing those images and putting it out there gave me a voice to acknowledge what was going on and bring some awareness and spark dialogue about it," said McMurray at the 22nd annual American Black Film Festival in an interview with Deadline last month.

"Just remember all the good the Purge does."
Journalists take photos of a costume from The Purge on display during Universal Studios' 'Halloween Horror Nights' on August 27, 2013 in Universal City, California. JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

The First Purge is not subtle, following in the tradition of the previous three movies. These images are powerful in their own way and drive the politics of the movie forward. However, the horrifying masks, the tension of being alone at night, the glowing, colored contacts, are what inform the fear of the audience.

When the night is over, Dmitri, bloody and wounded, is asked, "Now what?" He replies, "Now, we fight." The movie ends as Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" begins to play, and the camera pans to an American flag at half mast. Credits roll.

For an ending scene, it is a grim reminder of what's to come over the next 25 years, long before Senator Roan wins the presidency in The Purge: Election Year and abolishes the Purge entirely. The NFFA is built on the idea that humanity is inherently violent and must release that anger in order to survive. However, the core message of The First Purge is not about doubt in the American government, but faith in the American people.

The First Purge opens in theaters everywhere Wednesday.