Purge Election Year is the third film in James DeMonaco’s franchise that depicts a dystopic near future where a new American government sponsors a day where all crime is legal for 12 hours. The series launched in 2013 as a gloried home invasion horror film that took little advantage of the film’s premise. Two years after the much improved sequel, Purge: Anarchy, DeMonaco finally finds his footing delivering bona fide B-movie thrills in this blunt, bloody throwback thriller that blends ham-fisted satire with grindhouse sensibilities to a pulse pounding effect.
Frank Grillo returns as Leo Barnes, whose troubled history with the Purge has lead him to become the head of security for Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost), an independent senator running for President under a platform that would end the Purge. Seeing Roan as a threat, the ruling party who call themselves the New Founding Fathers decide to use the year’s Purge as a way to get rid of the senator and secure the election. When Roan’s safe house is breached, she and Leo find themselves chased across the streets of Washington DC on a night where everyone is a threat.
The Purge: Election Year takes what was improved upon in the sequel and hones it to a sharper edge. The script, also penned by James DeMonaco is leaner and more focused than its predecessors, showing the effects of the Purge from both the top and bottom of society. While Leo and the senator are running from their lives, they meet Joe Dixon played by a scene stealing Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump) a bodega owner whose Purge insurance was jacked up the day before and now must defend his shop himself with his loyal employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria, Crank), a supporter of Roan. The group all turn in solid performances, steering into the skid of the film’s B-movie vibe and chewing up the scenery.
2013’s Purge was conceived as a low budget horror film, but as the series has progressed, it’s moved further away from its slasher movie roots into the sweet spot of midnight movie madness. The film certainly still has blood, and sports one or two scares, but it has more in common with Escape from New York than it does Halloween. The film’s proclivity towards madness and bravado is more suited to the pulp action genre and Election Year is much better for it, indulging in larger set pieces and mano-a-mano fight scenes. It’s all very dark and very bloody, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a little fun too.
The Purge series has always played on the moral relativism of our baser emotions – rage, jealousy, and entitlement. Anarchy brought the social implications to the forefront, painting the Purge as a way for the wealthy to control the poor. Ultimately it’s not the concept of the Purge that’s particularly upsetting or original (Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, even The Running Man all deal with State sanctioned murder). What makes the Purge interesting is that it takes rage and turns it into policy, the very thing government is meant to protect against. Election Year rips the themes of fascism, racism, and nationalistic lunacy that have become unsettlingly present this election cycle and takes them to their most horrific conclusions.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
The Purge: Election Year is undoubtedly the most effective film of the franchise. The film’s scope is appropriately larger, the world is better defined, and the film finally delivers a cast of characters we want to see make it through the night. The film’s politics are anything but subtle, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t at least a little thought provoking. There are a lot of interesting avenues the film ignores, for a film predicated on the idea that thousands of people enjoy murdering one another once a year, its rarely concerned with the psychology of what people enjoy about purging. Still, I doubt this will be the last Purge we see, so we may yet find out. The Purge: Election Year probably won’t convert anyone who isn’t a fan of the genre, but for those that are, the film delivers.