The Purge: Election Year (2016) / Thriller-Action

MPAA Rated: R for disturbing bloody violence and strong language
Running Time: 105 min.

Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julia Soria, Betty Gabriel, Terry Serpico, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor
Director: James DeMonaco
Screenplay: James DeMonaco

Review published July 10, 2016

With themes that seem to tap into today's headlines, The Purge: Election Year seems less like a sci-fi premise with a horror-movie sense of aesthetic, and more like a freaky fun-house mirror of our own society in the United States today.  It's the third film in the series, but a direct sequel to the second film, The Purge: Anarchy, because it continues to follow the main protagonist of that film, Leo Barnes (Grillo, Captain America: Civil War), as well as its continuation of the lifting of the Escape from New York plot line.  Where the first two films had more personal stakes during the night of a million horrors, this entry opens the scope wider so that the ramifications of The Purge have national, perhaps international, consequences.

The "Purge" of the title, for those who are still unaware, is an annual "celebration" in which, for a twelve-hour period, any crime you can think of is declared legal, as the police, fire fighters, and medical services take a break and let the U.S. citizens run amok without fear of prosecution for any misdeeds committed.  The "patriotic" day now faces the biggest challenge since its inception, as independent senator Charlene 'Charlie' Roan (Mitchell, Running Scared), whose family was killed in front of her eyes on Purge Night eighteen years prior, is running in a hotly contested battle for the presidency with a platform on abolishing the practice because it is being used by the wealthy elite in business and government as a means to eradicate the poor and sick because they feel they are an economic burden on the rest of society.

Her opposition for the seat is a representative of the status quo that has the backing of the NFFA (New Founding Fathers of America), which is a group of those mega-Christian right-wing elites (all older, white and rich), who desperately need to thwart the senator's momentum before they lose their stranglehold on the direction of American society to their favor.  They market a "fair & balanced" change in the Purge Night law that protected government officials from harm during Purge Night as making things right to the downtrodden, because now no one is safe.  However, it is all a ruse to get Senator Roan, who has decided she must hide in her home like everyone else so that it doesn't look like she's privileged, out of the way during the Purge.  With big guns out to get her, it's up to chief security agent Barnes, as well as a kind and resourceful store owner named Joe (Williamson, ATL) and his cohorts, who all believe in the senator and what she stands for, to protect the vulnerable senator from being killed along with the plight of the nation's victimized poor through the acts of the Purge.  Unfortunately, there's nowhere to hide when just about everyone out in the Washington DC streets is out to bask in the blood of the weak.

The series has thus far been the brainchild of James DeMonaco, who has written and directed all three films in the series, each one broadening the ideas built from the previous entry.  This one includes more interesting Purge tidbits, such as "murder tourists", who are foreigners traveling to America for the holiday in order to revel in the slaughter themselves, and how insurance companies use the opportunity to further bilk the poor by jacking up their rates just before Purge Night, resulting in those on the lower end of the economic spectrum going completely out of business, or putting their lives on the line, having to fend for their establishments themselves.  There is also the notion that violence is all-encompassing when everyone commits to using it as a means to an end, and that there is a sense of hollowness to the act of murder that causes more problems than it could ever fix, and only breeds more of it in retribution.

DeMonaco also fleshes out new characters for us to follow, each one of them who brings something more to the story than being merely fodder for slaughter.  As we come to like all of these supporting characters, the more investment we have in whether they will all survive the night, making for some tense moments at the right intervals to make the film's sense of dread quite palpable as the climax nears. There are missed beats here and there, such as excessive use of the action-genre crowd-pleasing, last-minute savior contrivance, and there is an especially flaccid epilogue that features, without spoiling it, a news report that lacks the excitement and interest it would normally have had, but I guess realism and plausibility are just too much to expect from a knowing b-movie franchise.  Thankfully, the film rarely stops enough in action for us to ponder the multitudinous leaps in logic required for the entire premise to hold the semblance of a plot.

As with the other films in the series, The Purge: Election Year is marketed as a horror film, and while there are a few modest jump-scares here and there, as well as some horrific, blood-drenched moments perpetrated by murderous thugs wearing scary masks (Purge Night is compared to "Halloween for adults"), this is not a film that has supernatural malevolence at play, and it isn't overtly gory or graphic.  There are even more horrific sexual assaults that could be perpetrated on women and young children specifically that are generally ignored on the Purge Night as envisioned by DeMonaco in his films, which seems to lean more on the social satire side of American society and how the haves are perpetually using their wealth and influence to punish the have-nots, seeing themselves as the victims who have to shoulder the load of society for those they don't feel are worthy.  It's an often repugnant and ultra-violent kind of film, likely targeting those who like bloody thrillers, but the underlying dark and potent allegorical commentary on race and class in America, even if broad-stroke in delivery, makes it palatable for visceral-minded viewers who aren't merely salivating for on-screen glory kills.

Qwipster's rating:

2016 Vince Leo