The Purge trilogy of films is perhaps the most sadistically brilliant commentary on American culture so far this century. James DaMonaco wrote and directed each film, and they are technically self-contained; you don't need to watch The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy in order to understand The Purge: Election Year. However, there are subtle but very important connections between the three films that must be understood in order to truly appreciate Election Year — things you may have missed even if you've already seen them.
1. What the Purge Really Is
When people think of "the Purge," they think about the fact that it's one night a year where all crime is legal. And that's true. But if that's all you think it is, you're missing the point. Before continuing, make sure you've also brushed up on your The Purge movie knowledge.
According to the movie's version of the US, the Purge started in the late 2010s, after the US went through a severe economic collapse. A group called the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) took power. They are a political party that merged church and state (with ties to the NRA) into a violent, cultish organization. Nobody is forced to participate in the Purge, but it is your patriotic duty to do so.
The Purge is held on March 21 every year. The significance of that date is never explicitly mentioned in any of the films, but March 21st is generally the first day of spring. The Purge is a way for American citizens to give in to their sinful, violent natures, to "release the beast" for one night. In that way, their souls will be cleansed, and they are renewed, starting another year of peaceful coexistence. It's the springtime of the soul. It's also spring cleaning of society.
Of course, rich people are able to set up situations allowing them to kill people without putting themselves in danger of being harmed; and that's the secret goal of the Purge: money. It targets poor people, killing them in order to reduce unemployment, welfare, and people that just generally aren't as good as rich people, and who drag society down.
[Note: many people have said that the series makes a commentary on racism. But that's not quite correct. Pay close attention to the characters and the dialogue, and you see'll it's not specifically about race. It's about classism. Rich vs. poor. The "haves" vs. the "have nots."]
2. The Purge Isn't Working
Again, this is not something that is explained much. But when watching the first two movies, I noticed something curious about the opening screens.
Here is the intro to The Purge.
Here is the intro to The Purge: Anarchy.
The movie never talks about this, but look at the unemployment numbers. They are rising, not falling.
The first movie is a tightly focused story of one family trying to decide whether or not to protect a wounded man that has gotten into their house. We don't know much about how society as a whole is handling this, but in The Purge: Anarchy the scope widens to city-level. We learn that among the Purgers and the mercenaries and hired hunters, more people are resisting the Purge than the NFFA likes. They come up with their own solution to that inconvenience.
3. The Evolution Of The Purge
The Purge: Election Day takes place in the year 2035. By now, the Purge is not just a patriotic duty, it's a fully fledged consumer holiday full of grotesque costumes. As one mask-seller proclaims, "The Purge is Halloween for adults!"
This is also illustrated by a brief news segment on "murder tourism." People from other countries are coming to the US just so they can participate in the Purge themselves. It's no longer a show of American patriotism. It's a government-endorsed night of atrocities open to world participation.
4. The Sergeant
In The Purge: Anarchy, we meet a guy known only as Sergeant. His goal for the Purge is to hunt down and kill a guy that was driving drunk and killed his son.
Because of his actions at the end of the movie, he becomes dedicated to stopping the Purge. The Sergeant is in The Purge: Election Year. We learn his name is Leo Barnes, and he has become the head of security for a senator running for president who wants to stop the Purge. It's an interesting character arc for him across the movies.
5. The Stranger
The Purge is about a rich family, the Sandins, who are safely locked in their house for the annual Purge. When the son sees a wounded man crying out for help, he lets the man in the house. The man is being pursued by a group of psychos who demand that the father, James Sandin, send the wounded stranger outside so they can finish killing him. James decides not to do that, so a battle ensues. We never learn the name of the wounded man; in the credits he is known as The Stranger.
The Purge: Anarchy puts some focus on people forming anti-Purge groups. These are underground organizations using Purge tactics to take out people organizing Purge slaughters. One of the budding leaders of a group is none other than the Stranger. It's a small but illuminating role.
The Purge: Election Year is set 12 years after The Purge: Anarchy. The anti-Purge resistance is more organized and powerful. The leader of a main group is named Dante Bishop. Dante is none other than the Stranger. There is no mention of the fact that Dante was the guy in the first movie. If you don't recognize him on your own, you won't even know.
[Fun fact: The Stranger, played by Edwin Hodge, is the only character to appear in all three movies.]
Taking that fact into account, you realize that the single most important character in all the movies may be James Sandin, the father in the first movie that decided not to kick the Stranger out of his house. And he was only in the first movie.
Are there other little connections between the movies? Perhaps. I won't say any more. But explaining this much should hopefully inspire you to not only watch The Purge: Election Year, but also to watch (or re-watch) the first two movies before you do. Closely.
The Purge trilogy is an important contribution to the US's examination of itself, and The Purge: Election Year is particularly chilling because of its relevance to real things going on in the nation today. It's a grotesquely beautiful, savage dance of morals, politics, and society.
Here's the trailer: