Movie Review: The Purge: Election Year (2016)

“Purge for Your Liberty”

2 Stars
The Purge: Election Year (2016)

The Purge: Election Year (2016)


Director: James DeMonaco

Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson

Synopsis: After escaping an assassination attempt, a presidential candidate finds herself on the streets with her chief security officer just as the annual Purge begins.

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The Purge series casts its net wider with each entry as it seeks to maintain its unexpected popularity; beginning as a home invasion thriller before daring to venture onto the bloody streets for a sequel, the third film in the franchise seeks to explore the political and religious ideologies that permit the barbaric annual 12-hour purge to exist in a supposedly modern and progressive society while continuing to provide unhealthy doses of anarchic violence.   Disillusioned cop Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo – Captain America:The Winter Soldier, The Grey), the anti-hero of The Purge: Anarchy, returns in his new position as chief security officer to presidential candidate Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell – Molly, Nurse Betty), whose campaign pledge to banish the Purge has placed her within touching distance of the White House.   However, she and Barnes are forced onto the streets just as the latest Purge comes into effect in order to escape an assassination attempt orchestrated by the Founding Fathers, who withdrew the traditional exemption of government officials from the annual killing spree purely so that they could eliminate the threat posed by Roan’s campaign.

Roan and Barnes are saved from certain death at the hands of a group of foreign purgers by shopkeeper Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson – Ali, After the Sunset) and his assistant, Marco (Joseph Julian Soria), who have had no choice but to sit on the roof of Joe’s store to protect it from looters because he’s unable to pay a massive last-minute hike in his purge insurance premium.    Unfortunately, the refuge provided for them in the store proves to be short-lived with the arrival of a couple of slo-mo psychopathic schoolgirls armed with AK47s, who are seeking revenge after Joe caught them stealing a chocolate bar the day before.    Forced back on the street once more, Barnes and Roan eventually receive shelter from a group of Roan’s supporters who, she learns to her horror, are planning to assassinate her rival in the race for the White House.

After starting out as a political drama, The Purge: Election Year becomes an action-packed remake of Escape from New York before morphing into an overblown conspiracy thriller.   Each segue marks a new phase in the movie’s descent into hysteria that culminates with a crazed priest wielding a machine gun after having sacrificed a hapless drug addict in front of a congregation whose members wear the vacant grins of Stepford residents.   The film’s subtext is delivered with the force and grace of a sledgehammer, but will probably mean little to those who watch purely to see a recognisable world in which the rules by which we live are temporarily lifted.   Even for a movie based on the most ridiculous of premises – it’s impossible to watch any of The Purges without asking oneself just how the wholesale slaughter advocated by its alternative government can possibly yield any kind of social or economic benefit for its country – The Purge: Election Year’s final reel steps over the line demarcating solid exploitation action from delirious hysteria without realising the line even exists, so that climactic scenes which writer and director James DeMonaco should have approached with broad satirical strokes are played with misplaced sincerity.

And yet, until that disastrous finale, The Purge: Election Year is a strangely fascinating pleasure, like watching violent drunks turn on one another after finally tiring of intimidating us.   The pace rarely drops for a moment, and almost every shot looks like it was filmed for the trailer.    Ironically, though, The Purge: Election Year is more effective in the moments of quiet, dreamlike horror in which DeMonaco’s camera roams the streets to alight upon strange fruit hanging from park trees, or screaming women lashed to the bonnet of a speeding car.   Watching these scenes, it becomes apparent that The Purge movies are probably stronger without a gung-ho hero like Barnes, and when confined to personal experiences in a breached home or on an apparently deserted street rather than the distractions of political scheming and assassination plots, even though DeMonaco deserves praise for attempting to widen the scope of the series.   Overall though, fans of the franchise won’t be disappointed by this third (and reputedly final – although that remains to be seen) entry in the series.

(Reviewed 16th July 2016)

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