It’s somehow taken three The Purge films to really consider the wider implications of the premise – that, for one night every year, all crime is legal for one night, and people can commit whatever acts they want with impunity – and by setting it against a presidential race, it is somewhat difficult to ignore the timeliness of this film. The Purge: Election Year is incredibly similar to the previous two films in the franchise (although somewhat better), and fans will not be disappointed. It fails at the social statement it somewhat half-heartedly tries to make, but if you’re only watching it for that, other films may be a bit more to your taste.
As a young girl, Sen Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) survived the annual Purge night, a night of lawlessness that took the lives of all her family members. Now, as a presidential candidate, Roan is determined to end the yearly tradition of blood lust once and her all. Her opponents are not pleased with this, and so they hatch a plan – Roan finds herself trapped on the streets of Washington D.C. just as the latest Purge gets underway. It’s up to her head of security Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) and local deli owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson) to keep her alive during the next 12 hours of mayhem so she can win the election and enact change.
Writer-director James DeMonaco and cinematographer Jacques Jouffret have been with The Purge since the first film, and it is evident that they are confident with the style they are gunning for – in this case, they use a lack of lighting to highlight the darkness of the situation and generate a lot of mood. It creates a suitably gritty vibe, often seeming to be lit solely by diegetic sources, with shadows looming everywhere.
The cast here are somewhat mixed, but they are a good bunch to root for. Grillo returns as the mystery man from The Purge: Anarchy, but although he is competent as the Dirty Harry-style enforcer who can purge with ease, he is a touch underserved by the script. Mitchell is a good actress and a likeable protagonist, working well with Grillo, but she’s somewhat miscast – she never really seems presidential (although, in a real world where the two options for president are a lunatic and a criminal, what do I know?). It is Williamson who stands out here – he gets pretty much all of the funny lines, and anchors most of the racial politics too.
Let’s talk about the politics – they are there, but they are never particularly explored in detail, instead being used as a framework to get from A to B (essentially, the Purge is a fraud to eliminate those at the bottom of the pile in order that the state and the rich don’t have to support them – i.e. the poor and the non-white). It seems as though the movie is going to spend some time dealing with this, but it is sketchy at best and it quickly devolves into a more typical kind of ending. Rather than satire, it feels a bit toothless. (The script is the big issue here – there are elements that are so daft, they are funny. Williamson’s character catches a girl stealing a candy bar, and she is not happy. She returns later – half of her dialogue is swearing, half is about the candy bar – and is hilarious rather threatening.)
The Purge: Election Year is the best film in the franchise, and that is down to the way it mixes its interesting premise with social satire, even if it doesn’t always quite work as well as I should have done. Script issues definitely let this film down, but it is enjoyable enough to be worth a watch.
Director: James DeMonaco
Cast: Frank Grillo (Leo Barnes), Elizabeth Mitchell (Senator Charlie Roan), Mykeiti Williamson (Joe Dixon), Joseph Julian Soria (Marcos), Betty Gabriel (Laney Rucker), Terry Serpico (Earl Danzinger)
Running Time: 105 Mins