Make America great again. What a perfect opportunity for The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy writer and director James DeMonaco to bring the latest installment of his sinister look at the future in The Purge: Election Year. This very bitingly satirical franchise may be lifting that unavoidable Donald Trump campaign slogan for its own gain but it also has a real sense of irony to it as Election Year looks to make The Purge series great again. I really enjoyed the first film quite a bit but I was a bit let down by the sequel, a departure into a more action thriller genre with a sort of John Carpenter flavoring. While this is something that is totally in my wheelhouse, there seemed to be way too much restraint in the execution. In short, they weren’t fully willing to give into the anarchy that was promised.
Reprising his role from the second movie, Frank Grillo returns as the audience favorite lead character, an actor who has quickly shown how versatile he is as an action hero. In the development of this movie, the next Purge story wasn’t supposed to be directly related, instead supposed to be a prequel story of the first Purge event. This is something the film plays on loosely at the beginning of the story but the success of Grillo’s Seargent Leo Barnes character gave way to a retooling of the film to fit around him and we now have our first direct sequel in the series. Will there be more? In this horrid direction that America seems to be moving in, I think there will always be a place for it.
The film picks up two years after the events of Anarchy and most importantly after Leo chose to not purge the killer of his son, changing his feelings on the society cleansing event. Now he is the head of security for Presidential candidate Charlene Roen, a brash voice of the people politician that gives Leo many headaches but represents a fight that he wholeheartedly believes in. Roen’s main platform is to abolish the Purge once she is voted into power, something that puts her as an enemy to the opposition, the new “fathers” of America and the citizens following through on their rights to kill off the lower class and unprotected people during the twelve hour period.
This Purge would prove to be one unlike any before it as, for the first time, no one is safe from being purged, including government officials, namely Presidential Candidate Charlene Roen. Undeterred, she vows to stay in her own house, rather than a bunker or safe house against all of Leo’s protesting. Fortifying her house against all insurgents and forming a team of soldiers ready to lay down their lives for her, Leo believes he has enough of the situation under control to have his boss survive until the morning and continue her so far successful race to the White House. All is going well until someone within the group betrays Leo and Roen, thrusting them out into the dangers of Washington, D.C. in the middle of Purge night.
The Purge: Election Year definitely succeeds where the other films have as well, with the costuming and production design. There are a myriad of masks throughout the film that all look incredible on the big screen, some of the details in a few here and there will always be memorable for me, especially one in particular, a neon Statue of Liberty. We also get to see vehicles strung with lights, bedazzled Ak-47s, guillotines rolled out into the streets, an almost Mad Max like groups of roving gangs and marauders looking to make bloodshed and leave piles bodies in their wake. It’s all esthetically pleasing to action fans and horror films alike, a vast improvement from the last film.
As ridiculous as the plot may seem like from the outside, once you are immersed into the story the outlandishness of the subject gets horrifyingly less and less inconceivable. We could very well head to an annual “thinning of the herd” if certain people get into positions of power. The justifications of The Purge almost feel like something you would hear from a politician on CNN or the Bill O’Reilly Show. When the film goes a little off the rails in the third act, bringing a crazy sort of zealot behavior from our major heads of government, it still comes off as very par for the course in how this would all play out. Seeing as the film takes place in 2025, we can both laugh at the insanity of the storyline and fear for our own future.
The same sort of horror exposition issues plagues Election Year, as this doesn’t appear to be DeMonaco’s strong suit. We know Grillo’s character already, so his slow motion entrance is one of the best in the film and Roen’s media told character explanation works well but when we get a look at our other players it gets clunky. Mykelti Williamson plays Joe, a deli store owner who is immediately set up as the friendly store owner with an off-color sense of humor, providing the only comedic center of the film. We also have his Hispanic store help that owes a debt to Joe and a former gangbanger who Joe helped reform. All pretty standard and cookie cutter stuff. I only bring this up as an issue being that there is no attempt to try and swerve from the very familiar cast road we’re usually put on.
If you were a fan of the first and second movie, you will not be deterred at all from liking the new installment. There’s nothing that will catch you off guard and nothing that will particularly surprise you but what you will get is a high octane ride through insane killers and citizens suffering from psychotic murderous breaks. If you want all that blood, brains and bullets flying then you will not be disappointed by Election Year. I really felt that the film still did exhibit that restraint which bogged Anarchy down a bit but James DeMonaco relaxed that grip slightly for this one in a few key sequences. All in all, the film is good not great and I’m perfectly prepared to check out the next part if it comes. Let’s call it The Purge: Political Fallout, okay? This is a three out of five.