The Purge is one of the most unique movie series in recent years. Written and directed by James DeMonaco it is one of the few franchises to change genre as it went on. 2013’s The Purge, while financially successful, was a fairly unremarkable home invasion film. Fine for what it was it was disappointing due to not really meeting the concept’s potential. Released just a year later 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy switched things up and was more action-thriller than horror film. With the change in genre it set us up for a “get to safety” survival and showing more scope than it’s predecessor. Two years later, and with the United States more divided politically than ever before, writer-director DeMonaco returns with The Purge: Election Year.
Having lost her family due to the Purge, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is gaining steam as a presidential candidate. Her platform, ending the bloody tradition once and for all. With her opponents planning her execution Roan and bodyguard Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) have to traverse the streets of Washington DC and hope they survive the next 12 hours.
Like past entries in the series we have two main groups that the film follows. The first is the duo of Senator Roan and Barnes. I’d be lying I said they were the most interesting two people. It isn’t that they’re bad at their roles because they’re not. Mitchell is fine as the sympathetic politician and Grillo has mastered the grizzled soldier (or bodyguard in this case) role at this point. I just don’t think they are given too much to do. Their story arc is very point A to point B. It is pretty standard stuff until they meet the other heroes Joe, Marcos and Laney. A group of working class citizens the three are trying to protect Joe’s Deli and protect the senator from the ensuing chaos. By being ordinary citizens they provide a sense of humanity that this kind of movie needs. They aren’t important people or epic badasses just regular people getting through the night. Well one of them is a badass.
La Pequeña Muerte
If there were a breakout star for the film it would be Laney (Betty Gabriel). Presented as someone with a troubled past she spends Purge night providing medical aid. That’s right on a night when everything goes to hell she provides help. All, seemingly, to make up for her past as the legendary purger Pequeña Muerte. Someone using The Purge to make up for past sins is great and she has the biggest crowd pleasing moment of the movie. If they continue the series I can only hope that she is brought back.
One of the highlights of each film are the different gangs that are encountered during the all of the mayhem. The Purge: Election Year is no different with two very distinct gangs taking the forefront. The first being a group of spoiled schoolgirls with a grudge against Joe. Coming in to Miley Cyrus’s ‘Party in the USA’ their colorful mix of ratchet and club kid is far an away the most unique. What they have in style they lack in substance with fairly one note personalities. The other being a group of foreigners who travel to the US to participate. As a newscaster calls it in the movie, purge tourism. It is an concept that isn’t explored nearly enough.
Like the past film the main villains are the New Founding Fathers and they are as evil as ever. Just like before they are a group of hardcore right-wing caricatures. No matter what your politics though it is hard to be offended when they are little more than mustache twirling villains. When they aren’t overacting they buy off Roan’s other bodyguards and hire a team of mercenaries to take out the senator. Their choice of assassin, a militia made of up neo-nazis. That’s right, Nazis. Wearing black ops fatigues and a variety of Nazi paraphernalia they are the most bland of the gangs we encounter.
Which leads to my biggest issue with the film, it’s lack of subtlety. I don’t need it to discuss political theology but it is so on the nose here. By the time David Bowie’s song ‘I’m Afraid of Americans’ played at the end it became comical. Then again The Purge: Election Year is an action movie not a political thriller nor does it try to be.
Speaking of the action I found it quite enjoyable. Like it’s predecessor it goes for a grimy, grindhouse feel and it still works. Grillo is as believable as ever in the action scenes never looking out of place. He even pulls off the increasingly rare knife fight so that’s a plus. Similarly like before the coolest bits are the unexplained happenings we see from other people. The coolest, and most mysterious, being a woman watching a body burn. No reason, no explanation, just another crazy thing we see happening during the annual Purge. It adds a sense of world building that you don’t see in most horror or action movies.
After watching The Purge: Election Year I couldn’t help but think how similar it was to the last one. A Warriors-esque chase movie it tries to provide social commentary but it is too blunt for it to be taken seriously. As a story it’s kind of a retread of the last one. With that said it is also just as entertaining as the last entry. With a stylish look and a bloodstained veneer it is a welcome deviation from most of the sanitized fare most studios produce for the summer. While far from perfect it is the perfect summer blockbuster for those looking for something a bit darker.