The Purge: Election Year (2016)
Directed by: James DeMonaco
Written by: James DeMonaco
Starring: Betty Gabriel, Elizabeth Mitchell, Frank Grillo, Joseph Julian Soria, Mykelti Williamson, Terry Serpico
THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR (2016)
Directed by James DeMonaco
Usually I’m a big believer in star ratings as a shorthand for those that can’t be arsed reading the 700 words before it. But being a part three, and deeply ingrained in an established template, The Purge: Election Year is the kind of movie that defies the system. Fans will still be fans and haters are still gonna hate. As such, whether I like it or not’s neither here nor there – since I wasn’t huge on either of the first two. Though I will say third time’s the charm, and regular series director/ writer DeMonaco has fashioned the best movie ever to feature the word Purge in its title.
The setup’s the same as before. For reasons too absurd to go into, one night every year all crime, including murder, becomes legal. It’s an annual tradition that tends to result in mass killing, torture and looting against the working class. But not if one senator can help it. As the real America preps for a bitter-fought election, in the fictional one Charlie Roan (Mitchell) stands for president on a platform of ruining everyone’s fun by abolishing the pastime. Boo! Unfortunately for her the vote’s not ‘til after purge night, and this year the clause protecting elites is lifted by the New Founding Fathers rent-a-Republican Owens (Secor). With the help of her security head Leo (a returning Frank Grillo), she needs to survive the night in the face of assassins, traitors and an endless stream of would-be killers. Along the way they form a motley B-Movie crew of misfits with a diverse cast, including deli owner Joe (Williamson), his son figure Marcos (Soria) and reformed thief Laney (Gabriel).
True, none of this is much a stretch for the series. Yet what little it does is done decently. As a franchise The Purge is unique among horror properties in lending itself to both claustrophobic stalking and stunt-fueled spectacle. This entry offers both in abundance, with the first two acts delivering set-piece after set-piece. Unlike the second entry (Purge: Anarchy) it manages without sacrificing cohesion for a disjointed video-game narrative, and escalates its threat instead of repeatedly changing it. This isn’t to say there’s not variety though – we get car chases, guillotines and gun fights. Then Act 3 takes a gamble, dialing the ridiculousness to 11, but I suspect most fans will still be on board when they get the obligatory open ending.
Regardless of whether this is the last entry or not (and I suspect it won’t be, given the impressive box office) it marks a point in the series where the different elements work together. Visually it’s crisp if surprisingly tame in doing gruesome without being gratuitous: plenty people die but nobody gets hurt. DeMonaco’s eye for staging has matured, with him utilizing his surroundings much better than the first and providing more tension than the second. The script is tighter than before, and the greater concentration on class warfare, and activist iconography, shows a semblance of something to say. It doesn’t give its actors anything too demanding, but there’s enough forward momentum to keep it from dragging. The cast are good together, bouncing off each other so the humour lands, and also ensuring the film’s heart beats a little. I’d have liked to see more of the former though.
As per usual the movie tries to have its cake and smash it to pieces: critiquing a grotesquely aggressive society through the medium of a violent horror. Yep, killing sucks. Here’s slow-mo fighting, vehicles being flipped and people being shot apart to show it. For me, none of this would necessarily be an issue if the franchise took itself less seriously. Given the sheer stupidity of its setup this ought to be obvious. Since the original, there’s been the premise for an excellent satire. And whilst this entry goes further than its predecessors towards realising this (the killing-tourism being a highlight, along with some one-liners), it never elevates its social comment to more than a backdrop. Rather, like previous movies the context provides interesting bookends to a fairly generic action thriller. Albeit a very competent one.
So back to the stars question, if you loved the first two films to the extent that you’ve seen them multiple times, got the blurays/ a few masks/ a tattoo of the NFFA logo, then it’s four or five. If you hated them it’s still one. And for everyone else it’s a probably a strong three.