“You should just call the cops”
Writer/director Philippe Bourret‘s short film First Night takes a very scary look at society’s implicit trust in our police force roaming the streets with loaded weapons and a slice of carte blanche if only they chose to wield it. Just look at the stereotypical recruit: a former jock with aggression issues who signs up for an outlet either straight from school or back from deployment overseas. This is a blanket generalization, but one necessary to explain how some cops may be motivated by more than protecting and serving. Whether it’s one lone soldier in a department of hundreds or a clique of friends reveling in the authoritative thrill a squad car provides, waking up to a police state tomorrow isn’t quite as far-fetched an idea as we’d like to believe.
Being a small indie film from Quebec shot on a tight budget amongst friends, anyone watching First Night must delve deeper than surface appearances. The acting isn’t the greatest, the dialogue is a tad too wordy and delivered in a rushed manner at times, and the blood that eventually spills proves more akin to ketchup than anything pumping through our veins, but these are details you can accept if you’re willing to embrace the story’s potent “What if?” scenario. The plot’s construction becomes Bourret’s biggest draw as a result because he knows his goals and exactly how to reach them via the script’s suspense-filled, darkly comic at times, trajectory. He hides what he needs to until the moment each revelation will hit those characters still in the dark and us the hardest.
To set the stage we meet two groups unknowingly on a collision course with one another: roommates Alex (Sandra Foisy) and Véro (Andrée-Anne Saliba) trying to finish the night in peace despite the raucous noise made in their neighbor’s apartment and officers JP (Matthew Saliba), Moses (Alexander Wheill), and Rich (Robert Verret) grabbing a late night coffee. The girls are fed up but not sure what they’ll meet when taking matters into their own hands next door. The safe call is to the police as it’s their job to keep the peace and more than likely will be able to handle themselves if the guilty party becomes abusive. What we don’t know yet, however, is that the cops are fed up too. Saying why would ruin the truth’s unveiling, so I’ll just leave it at that.
You won’t know everything even when this quintet converges because Bourret has hidden one more surprise through omission during the time before JP, Moses, and Rich leave for the domestic call that comes in. To us this motley crew—smarmy joker; stoic and scarred giant; and recently suspended depressive respectively—is simply looking to give their down-in-the-dumps buddy a night on the town so he won’t forget what it’s like to have power over the world’s scum. They are the perfect trio to help our enraged friends waiting in their apartment because knocking the girls’ obnoxious neighbor down a few pegs is exactly what the doctor ordered for all involved. But as we soon discover, this night is about more than upholding the law. It’s about taking satisfactory compensation that’s way overdue.
What follows is a tense standoff devoid of morality yet possessing sense albeit in a sick, warped way that goes beyond what we’d fathom about the fall of civilization. Anarchy can be good if it’s a justified means to an end led by sound minds lacking a trace of psychopathy that makes things a bit more interesting here. It won’t take long after meeting Moses’ hardened gaze or JP’s condescending ego to realize they aren’t the best fit for leadership in a new world order. Even so, listening to them explain their motivations forces us to wonder about our—the “innocent” public—own role in the impending chaos. By the end, First Night conceptually proves a spiritual prequel to the fascist state set forth in The Purge. And honestly, who’s to say that road hasn’t already been paved?