“The Purge: Election Year” Movie Review


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     It should come as no surprise to anyone that we are getting our third helping of “The Purge” franchise in the short four year time frame since the original film saw some success as a well reviewed and received homage to the John Carpenter films they clearly looked to emulate.  James DeMonaco, the writer/director of all three films in the series had already written the screenplay for the 2005 remake of Carpenter’s 1976 cult film “Assault on Precinct 13”, and the “Halloween” like scenario that unfolded in 2013’s “The Purge” seemed to be a continuation of his appreciation for the famed horror director.  Both 2014’s “The Purge: Anarchy” and now “The Purge: Election Year” owe their roots to another Carpenter classic, 1981’s “Escape From New York”.

     When you think about it, the scenario in play in both sequels that happens over one 12 hour period each year is essentially what a day in the life would be like in Carpenter’s carnage filled Manhattan maximum security prison landscape with its colorful costumes and cars wrapped in Christmas lights.  And with “Election Year”, DeMonaco has his Snake Plissken as well, in the form of Frank Grillo’s Leo Barnes.  Grillo, returning after debuting in “Anarchy” is now the head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), an independent Presidential candidate whose platform threatens to do away with the Purge all together.  Her run for the White House threatens the current party in power, the NFFA (New Founding Fathers of America), and their hand picked candidate, Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor).  As the initial scenes play out with on stage debates between the candidates and the seedy backroom meetings with the NFFA’s main players (All of which who are old, white, and clearly racist.), you get the idea DeMonaco has written his script with the aid of our current political arena and the many issues that play into our everyday lives.

     If you happen to not be up to speed on the main plot points of the first two films, the annual Purge is an event where for 12 hours crime, including murder, becomes legal.  In this present day parallel universe, America was once ravaged by crime, but the annual Purge became credited with reducing crime by some 95%, with the thinking behind it being American citizens can cleanse themselves once a year, thereby releasing any urges they may have had either built up or going forward.  Problem is, over its two decade existence, the Purge has become more of a way for poor people (minorities) to kill each other in massive numbers, reducing the amount of money spent on government services like health care and welfare.  The white men who comprise the power pulpit of the NFFA are presented as a group of white foul mouthed nefarious lunatics, who believe the Purge is the right of every American and they are willing to do anything to stop Senator Roan from being elected.

     This sets up the likely scenario in which Barnes and his security detail are charged with protecting Roan in her home during the night of the Purge.  As you may guess, things don’t go as planned.  And this where the powerful politician and her head of security are forced to depend on those within the cast who function as the common everyday people (minorities), who suffer each year when owning a business becomes a dangerous proposition on Purge night.  Joe (Mykelti Williamson) is a deli store owner who has just found out his Purge insurance rates are set to skyrocket thousands of dollars, forcing him and one of his employees, Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) to sit on the store’s rooftop in order to protect his property.  There’s also Laney (Betty Gabriel), a former troubled girl who Joe apparently has helped out, who now drives around in an armored ambulance on Purge night looking for people in need of medical attention.  These characters all hate the Purge, but like the sentiment which echoes across America today, they don’t believe anything will ever actually change.

     Perhaps the focus here is to take a long look as to where our country is currently going.  Maybe the NFFA and its strangle hold on past ideas being advertised as a “right” is merely a stand in for today’s NRA and the “From my cold, dead hands” mentality consistently in play even in the face of horrific tragedies like the one that just occurred in Orlando.  “The Purge: Election Year” may depict all of these killings in one night, but in today’s America the amount of killing, particularly with the use of guns, is thousands of times greater and spread out over each and every day of the year.  That is the reality.  “The Purge” as it turns out may not be exaggerated enough.  Speaking from a screenplay perspective, one of the main problems with the film is that DeMonaco doesn’t break any new ground or expand the already established story beyond what occurred in “Anarchy”, which certainly increased the scope of the plot when compared to the first film.

     DeMonaco is on point when he portrays the NFFA members as religious zealots, as we consistently hear the vast majority of these right wing conservatives preaching the gospel to us when they are supposed to be talking the issues. We see the group come together on Purge night for a mass and the sacrifice of an admitted drug user, as the camera pans into the audience revealing nothing but hateful white faces.  With nearly all of the supporting characters being people with black and brown skin, and the team of assassins hunting Barnes and Roan sporting Confederate Flags, Swastikas, and White Power symbols, it isn’t hard to surmise that DeMonaco is clearly making his official prediction as to where he thinks this country might be heading.  Ask me and I say we are already there.  

     In doing so, “Election Year” is for the most part a mean and brutal film, featuring a portrayal of the human race at its very worst with an endless series of gruesome and unsightly killings.  And the theater I saw this film in was packed with young people who, rather than talking or playing on their phones which is the norm, had their eyes glued to the screen as people were shot, stabbed, crushed, and mutilated in order for others to exercise their “rights” as Americans.  I can only imagine what was going through their still impressionable minds.  GRADE:  C+