For those about to jump into their very first Purge movie, the series takes place in a version of America where the New Founding Fathers have instituted a national holiday called The Purge during which all crime is legal for a span of 12 hours. You’re free to steal and kill as you please with the goal being that citizens will get it out of their system and then, for the rest of the year, be on their best behavior, keeping the crime rate below one percent.
While it may sound extreme and ridiculous, the first Purge does a fairly good job of selling the concept within the context of the film by keeping the focus on what happens to one family over the course of the evening. The Purge: Anarchy ups the scope and introduces the idea that there are organized groups looking to end the event, but it still works well because it is largely about a specific group’s fight for survival and how they come to learn about the resistance. The Purge: Election Year, however, gets way too carried away with its political agenda and overdone kill scenes, sucking all the believability and fun out of the franchise.
Frank Grillo returns for round three as Leo. It’s been two years since the events of The Purge: Anarchy and now he’s the head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell). Having suffered through a traumatic Purge, Charlie is now running for President with an anti-Purge agenda, which the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) don’t really appreciate so when the sirens go off on Purge night, she’s a prime target.
It’s not a bad place to start at all and Election Year is peppered with curious new concepts – favorites being the introduction of “murder tourists” and the use of a drone – but the big problem is that the movie has no tact whatsoever. Within minutes, the whole concept of The Purge loses all credibility because series writer-director James DeMonaco made a movie that’s completely devoid of humanity and nuance, and instead made a laughably over-the-top, nonsensical political commentary/murder music video.
The pro-Purge politicians aren’t people pushing an agenda for self-gain or because they genuinely think that the event is what’s best for the country. They’re over-the-top whack jobs who never would have been voted into office to begin with. And then, in stark contrast, we’ve got Mitchell as Charlie Roan who’s a one-note angel hellbent on always doing the right thing to a fault. That’s about all there is to Charlie making her an especially dull, uninteresting main character. And sadly there’s not much to Grillo’s character this time around either. In Anarchy, he struggled with whether or not to Purge for a specific reason, but here, he’s a single-minded good guy. His only priority from start to finish? Protect Roan. Yes, it makes sense, but again, someone with tunnel vision doesn’t make for a very engaging or interesting lead character.
The only two players that might spark a connection and earn audience support are Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) and Laney (Betty Gabriel). Marcos works at a deli owned by Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson). A while back, when Marcos first moved to the country, Joe was the only one who’d give him a shot and offered him a job so now Marcos looks at Joe as a father. You’ll know where their relationship is heading almost immediately after meeting the two, but Marcos is one of the most pleasant characters in the entire movie so it’s only natural to root for him. Gabriel’s Laney could have been an Election Year standout. She rides around in a triage van on Purge night saving helpless victims and is your quintessential badass with one scene in particular that’ll get the entire theater cheering whether the crowd is into the movie as a whole or not. But unfortunately, DeMonaco doesn’t give the character the time and care she deserves. At one point, it’s mentioned that Laney has a dark past, but that point is almost entirely forgotten.
The Purge: Election Year could have gotten away with underdeveloped characters and a silly story had the film been paced and shot effectively. For a movie with a whole lot of action and killing, Election Year is actually boring. DeMonaco takes the whole Halloween aspect of The Purge way too far, packing the film with masked crazies and elaborate kill tactics, and then shooting almost all of them in slow motion. It’s overly stylized to the point of being off-putting and obnoxious. It’s almost as if the filmmakers were trying to make a wide audience horror hit and something insane and niche along the lines of a Rob Zombie film. It’s done to excess and the two don’t really fit.
Unfortunately, it’s also a bit of a challenge to watch and enjoy The Purge: Election Year given current events. Perhaps it would have been easier to disconnect if Election Year was a better film – or tasteful in the least – but as is, the glorification of violence in the movie is pretty upsetting, and that’s coming from someone who’s a fan of the first two installments.