THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR Review
Director: James DeMonaco
Genre: Action Horror
“What am I doing here?” I asked myself as trailers rolled before THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR. I didn’t like the first two. Still, here I found myself on opening day, excitedly planting my butt in a theater seat. Like most, I’m intrigued by the release of this film in our current, um, political climate. What’s more intriguing is the “Purge” premise. If you think too deeply about it, there are more holes in it than a bullet-riddled block of swiss cheese. But, at face value, a one-night-only event each year in which all crime is legal is an exceptionally clever horror setup.
As the title suggests, it’s election year in this third installment of the franchise. The idealistic Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is on track to win the presidency, campaigning on her anti-Purge platform. The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) hate this and plan to kill her during the very event she wants banned. Roan’s rugged Secret Service head Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) won’t allow this assassination on his watch. Teaming up with a deli owner (Mykelti Williamson) and EMT (Betty Gabriel), Roan and Barnes fight a Neo-Nazi SWAT team hired by the NFFA and a number of other Purgers in an effort to survive the night.
Grizzled as ever
The biggest complaint among moviegoers for the first PURGE was the lack of world-building. The filmmakers listened, giving fans a look at the streets of Los Angeles in the sequel. Luckily, we get the biggest view of the Purge universe yet in the threequel. Images of a vandalized Lincoln Memorial and an old woman calmly singing next to a burning body are profoundly eerie. One character toward the beginning of the movie joyously proclaims the night as Halloween for adults, leading Purgers to kill in disturbing Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty costumes. A handcrafted, armored ambulance and spooky, Christmas light-covered car also showcase ELECTION YEAR’s fantastic production design.
For a semi-low budget feature, the movie boasts particularly strong fight scenes as well. The lead characters spend the majority of their time being chased by a team of mercenaries, with an attack helicopter and plenty of automatic weapons at their disposal. The gunfights are well-choreographed and tense. An additional hand-to-hand combat scene toward the end is especially brutal.
Unfortunately, the superb production design and above-average action don’t make up for the film’s flimsy characters and story. A flashback opening reveals Roan’s entire family was killed 18 years earlier in the Purge, inspiring her entry into politics and desire to put an end to it. This is an interesting setup for a character, but the filmmakers never follow through, leaving her as a one-dimensional representation of good. Similarly, Barnes puts himself through hell and back for Roan for no other reason than some offhanded comments that his son died a few years ago.
In an attempt to add depth to the story, ELECTION YEAR constantly throws modern political allusions and themes in the audience’s face. The general idea that the rich use the Purge to eliminate undesirables (poor, minorities, etc.) started to be majorly introduced in the sequel. All subtlety is out the window now. Simply put: New Founding Fathers = Conservatives, Resistance = Liberals. At a debate, Roan declares that the Purge is a moneymaking scheme used to line the pockets of the NRA. (Yes, she says NRA.) Another one of my favorite lines comes when the deli owner questions Roan’s ability to fix anything: “Hope can lead to a lot of letdown.” Get it? For the love of God, give us some nuance.
Despite my disappointment in all three movies, I want to see the PURGE franchise continue. There’s a good film in there somewhere. The concept is too compelling. ELECTION YEAR is definitely an improvement on the previous two, but I need this series to take one giant step in the right direction. I know it can be done.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend