WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The First Purge, in theaters now.
Released in 2013, the original Purge was a small affair: Although it was set against the backdrop of an annual, government-sanctioned rite in which all crime is legal for 12 hours, it focused on one family held hostage in its own home. The 2014 sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, opened up that dystopian world as its story played out across Los Angeles and the surrounding area. Then the third film, 2016's The Purge: Election Year, took more time to examine the political ramifications of such a barbaric practice, and one governor's hope to abolish it. Each installment moved forward in time, showing us the continued evolution of the deadly ritual.
With The First Purge. however, we wind the clocks back to the very beginnings of the event. While the previous chapters upped the ante and broadened the scale of the franchise, the fourth film goes much smaller. When the movie begins, the Purge is nothing but an idea, a social experiment a few days away that will only affect the residents of Staten Island. The new political party in charge of the United States, the New Founding Fathers of America, believes such a bloody rite will gain support from the rest of the country -- and pretty much all of its hopes and are riding on the Purge becoming a success.
But as the residents of Staten Island fight to survive, we come to a startling realization as the truth about the NFFA, and the Purge, is finally revealed. After a trilogy's worth of bloody massacres free of consequence, we learn the success of the Purge was built on a lie.
Because this first purge is an experiment, the NFFA has a much more hands-on approach. Some of the participants have been compensated to wear tracking devices and retinal cameras to monitor their activities, so that the NFFA may report its success to the rest of the country. However, what the dubious political party did not expect was for most of the people of Staten Island to simply wait out the night. Some of the angrier purgers did go on to commit murder, beat others and loot stores, but they only account for a relative handful of residents. Most of the people simply didn't embrace idea of committing murder free of consequence. It turns out that, fundamentally, most people are good.
With everything from its credibility to its financial support riding on the experiment, the NFFA does the unthinkable -- or rather, it does exactly what you'd expect a devious organization would do: It falsifies the data, and forces the odds in its own favor. The NFFA actually had a Plan B in place, just in case the majority of citizens wouldn't purge. Multiple teams of mercenaries were placed on standby, ready to be dispatched. Disguised as ordinary citizens and local gangs, they unleash hell on Staten Island, killing everyone on sight.
The costumed killers are the ones who commit most of the murders, and their actions are enough to ignite more atrocities. The NFFA then provides footage of the crime spree to news stations, passing off the mercenaries as regular citizens embracing the concept of the Purge.
As we know, the social experiment of the Purge turns out to be a success, because we have three movies that take place later in the timeline that show the entire country taking part in the annual rite. That means that every Purge that has taken place since the first -- the ones depicted in the three previous films, and those take took place in between -- were founded on a lie. The truth is, the majority of people were never willing to participate in a night of consequence-free killing. The NFFA had to get involved, and make the entire world believe Americans were only one law away from turning on each other.
The Purge was never real; the government simply made people believe it was.
Directed by Gerard McMurray from a script by series creator James DeMonaco, The First Purge stars Y'Lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Luna Lauren Velez, Kristen Solis and Marisa Tomei. The film is in theaters now.