UK Release Date: 26th August 2016
Runtime: 109 minutes
Director: James DeMonaco
Writer: James DeMonaco
Starring: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Kyle Secor, Betty Gabriel, Edwin Hodge, Terry Serpico
Synopsis: A senator with a grievance against the annual Purge finds herself targeted by a team of assassins when Purge Night comes around and all crime becomes legal for 12 hours.
Few horror franchises have squandered their potential quite as much as James DeMonaco‘s The Purge, which started with the uninventive home invasion horror of the first film and then moved into some intriguing world building with The Purge: Anarchy. It seemed as if the franchise could finally be set to reach its potential with the incredibly timely third movie Election Year, positioned for cinema release just a few months prior to the upcoming Trump-Clinton battle. Unfortunately, as has been common with the series to date, it’s a missed opportunity that favours pistols over politics.
Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) lost her family to violent thugs on Purge Night and is now running for President on a platform of change against traditional candidate Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor). Former police officer Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) is operating as security for Roan to keep her alive throughout the upcoming Purge. When their secure location is compromised, Leo reluctantly joins forces with shop owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson) and his Mexican friend Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) as the political ruling class tries everything to eliminate the threat to their dominance.
The Purge: Election Year is a terribly sad excuse for a movie. In the early stages of its development, it will have sat at the crossroads between sadism and satire. On the one hand is the rich subtextual potential of a society in which Donald Trump is somehow a serious contender for the White House and, on the other, is two hours of people being shot in the face. James DeMonaco doesn’t really do subtlety and, as a result, he makes a clear decision early on that the film isn’t going to deliver any scathing social commentary or explore the potential of his intriguing concept. It’s just going to kill a whole bunch of people.
This is a film that openly despises humanity. Like the worst segments of Michael Bay’s misanthropic mess Pain & Gain, Election Year has utter contempt for people and does its best to show it. The film is an endless symphony of gratuitous, sadistic violence and the sort of immature swearing that you’re more likely to hear coming out of a 12-year-old who just found a tatty DVD of South Park at the back of their father’s cupboard. DeMonaco’s script indulges in troubling stereotypes at every turn, most notably in the case of Mykelti Williamson and Joseph Julian Soria, who are treated as nothing more than blatant caricatures. Coming from the pen of a privileged Hollywood white man, this is problematic to say the least.
None of the thrills and intriguing details of The Purge: Anarchy are present here. There are hints of ideas that could make for an interesting movie, not least the idea of ‘murder tourism’ in which foreigners travel to America specifically to take part in the night-long orgy of criminality. This idea is tossed aside, like so many in this film, for a cheap scene of violence and some admittedly cool masks. If there is a standout aspect of this film, it’s definitely the costume design.
There isn’t an iota of intelligence or humanity to any of the characters, with Frank Grillo reduced to a mere snarling military type and Elizabeth Mitchell not allowed to show any strength as she’s shunted from crisis to crisis by Grillo. Plot points that are painted as crucial early on fall away in importance as the film nears a conclusion that, perhaps mercifully, seems to suggest that the Purge universe might well be done. Given that this installment is a crime against just about everyone who sees it, few will be sad to see this particular story disappear into the night.
Pop or Poop?
It’s sad to see that the Purge franchise has once again failed to fulfil its potential with Election Year, which seemed like it was perfectly placed to take the series to the satirical heights it has always promised. This latest film is a hideous confection of alarming racism, repellent sadism and the overwhelming sense that this is a franchise without anything of substance to say.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.