The Purge: Election Year
Dir: James DeMonaco
Starring: Elizabeth Mitchell, Frank Grillo, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Edwin Hodge, and Mykelti Williamson
Turn to any television network over the next few months and the height for political dissension in America will be at its most aggressive levels. It’s during these specific times that my frustration with the political machine turns the most negative and disheartened, making a film like “The Purge: Election Year” seem more true-to-life rather than a work of fantasy. It’s this aspect, along with a clever marketing campaign utilized during the election year, which makes this third installment in the franchise far more interesting than it otherwise might have been.
Social commentary in genre films is nothing new, George Romero, director of “Night of the Living Dead”, has done it exceptionally well in his zombie trilogy. While “The Purge: Election Year” squanders many opportunities to provide insight through its exploitation, the moments that it does utilize connective social commentary are effectively startling and stimulating. Director James DeMonaco, who has directed all three of the films in the franchise, has grown his dystopian vision from a small home invasion film, into a full blown city of chaos, and finally into a global conspiracy at the highest levels.
The Purge, a night where all criminal activity - including murder - is allowed, is a coveted right for Americans but also a death sentence for those not privileged with affording protection. Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who has a tragic connection with The Purge, is now the leading Presidential contender with a strong anti-Purge movement to follow. Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), returning from the second installment of these films, is now in charge of protecting Senator Roan so that she can make it to election day. Members of The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA), the people who established the annual Purge event, conspire to eliminate the Senator. This leads Leo and Senator Roan, along with a market owner named Joe (Mykelti Williamson) and his employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), into the streets of Washington D.C. on the deadliest night of the year.
“The Purge” is a cat-and-mouse home invasion film that very quickly became a by-the-numbers slasher film, the most interesting aspect of that film was wondering what the world looked like outside of the barricaded door. “The Purge: Anarchy” worked significantly better than the original film because of the expanded world that it showcased; it also embraced the more extravagant exploitive attitudes which made it feel more like something made in the 1980’s from the Cannon Group studio. “The Purge: Election Year” takes a little from both of these films while attempting to add some socially aware narrative points that most often work best when utilized as imagery rather than banter. Whenever the group is journeying across the city, the film makes a point to display the madness happening in the streets. Violent scenes that emulate the progression of violence throughout history are displayed. These depictions are unsettling because the acts are so recognizable; whether the use of guillotine in an alley way, the fighting pit of street gladiators with swords, or the hanged corpses swinging from trees, these moments reflect the bedlam of another scene involving a blood stained Lincoln Memorial. Unfortunately these effectively startling scenes are undercut by a narrative that never gets a grasp of what it wants to say but instead boldly embraces the sentiment that violence is bad only to then utilize violence to make amends. The film would have done better to completely embrace its exploitation and subsequent provoking imagery, allowing the audience to make connections far deeper than the simplified back and forth justifications of political figures, one that is yelling “peace” and another yelling “purge and purify”.
“The Purge: Election Year” never finds that middle ground where it can be an entertaining exploitation fantasy and also a reflective commentary on the reality that we live in. Some may contest that the latter in the previous comment is unfairly asking too much from a film like this. I may agree with that assessment because calling your film “Election Year” provokes the sentiment that one will make their decision based on external extravagance and some will make their decision based on what is being represented underneath. Happy election year.
2.50 out of 5.00