Warning: The following review contains some spoilers for The Purge: Election Year.
The first chapter of The Purge series (released in 2013) introduced us to an intriguing idea, which took place in the near future (2022 to be exact) when once a year for 12 hours, all crime, including murder, would be legal, and emergency medical services would be disabled for the duration of the night. While it started out promising, the Ethan Hawke-starring thriller/horror film fell victim to the clichés of a run-of-the-mill home invasion flick.
Hefty profits (thanks largely to its very low budget) were enough incentive to spawn a sequel. The Purge: Anarchy fulfilled its patriotic duty the following year by correcting many of the predecessor’s flaws. The action-packed, yet still creepy, follow-up revolved around new characters who were out in the dark, open streets on Purge Night rather than trapped in a house. The franchise’s latest installment, The Purge: Election Year, has accomplished something very few, if any, threequels have: It solidified itself as the strongest entity in the series.
For starters, the characters were more three-dimensional than the two previous installments. The film opens with a backstory of the movie’s heroine, Senator Charlene “Charlie” Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who lost her entire family on Purge Night several years earlier. Now that she is in the running for President of the United States, she plans to do away with The Purge for good. The citizens’ feelings on this campaign promise are split between delight for some and disdain for others.
Badass Frank Grillo returns from Anarchy as Lieutenant Leo Barnes, who this time around is Roan’s head of security. Keeping Senator Roan safe is more essential than ever during this year’s Purge Night, because Purge supporters are bound to attack her in protest of her position on the annual event dedicated to “soul cleansing”. The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) go so far as to eliminate the Purge rule that forbids the murder of top government officials in order to target Roan. Much to Barnes’ dismay, Charlie refuses any special treament for herself out of the fear that her voters will see it as hypocritical.
As was to be expected, the level of security at the senator’s own home wasn’t quite secure enough, forcing her and Barnes out into the streets of Washington, D.C. They eventually seek refuge in a deli owned by a man named Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson), who has no choice but to protect his store himself after discovering his insurance has increased to the point where he can no longer afford it. Joe, along with his assistant Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and EMT Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel), team up with Barnes and Roan to survive the night.
The film’s main low point arrives in the form of a clique of bratty bitches who try to shoplift candy bars the store. Like any good small business owner, he confronts the kids and forces them to return what they took. As you probably already guessed, they return during Purge hours enraged, armed and dressed in horrifically slutty attire, Hellbent on revenge.
Not only was their acting absolutely atrocious (none more so than the Queen Bee Kimmy, played by Hollywood newby Brittany Mirabile), but the sophomoric dialogue they uttered was almost painful to hear. Add to that the whole idea behind their “revenge” was beyond lame. How can audiences take these supposed “antagonists” as a serious threat when their main mission was to indulge in a free sugar rush?
Yet even these flaws weren’t enough to distract from The Purge: Election Year’s heavy political messages the series is known for. I read that this film was originally going to be a prequel about the origin of the Purge, but that idea was supposedly scrapped when Frank Grillo agreed to reprise his role from the second film.
My hunch is that the real reason had a lot more to do with the writers and producers being reluctant to waste a golden opportunity to capitalize on the current unconventional election.
Charlie Roan being a senator is an obvious reference to the Democratic presidential nominee. On social media, I constantly see comments claiming (only half-jokingly) that this movie is essentially a documentary of what the country will be like if a certain reality television star’s elected president. While it may be a bit of a stretch, that buffoon’s enticement of violence certainly makes his protesters’ assertions understandable.
The marketing campaign for Election Year’s also been quite clever, with a tagline that simply states “Keep America Great.” Is it a bit of a shameless reference to the current Republican nominee? Perhaps, but that doesn’t make it any less amusing. It also doesn’t make this flick any less worth checking out. Sometimes it’s art that imitates life rather than the other way around, like the potentially impending Idiocracy.