The Purge: Election Year. 2016. Directed & Written by James DeMonaco.
Starring Elizabeth Mitchell, Frank Grillo, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Terry Serpico, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor, Adam Cantor, Ethan Phillips, Raymond J. Barry & Christopher James Baker.
Blumhouse Productions/Platinum Dunes/Universal Pictures.
Rated R. 109 minutes.
I loved The Purge when it first hit theatres, didn’t take me long to find the concept scary and partly rooted in real American anxieties. Once The Purge: Anarchy came out I was getting impressed with director-writer James DeMonaco because instead of doing a second film just to make a bit of cash, he genuinely fleshed out a look at his little universe. And a pattern emerged – the original was from an upper class perspective, the sequel from a more middle class to poor perspective. So what comes next?
The Purge: Election Year dives into the political point of view. We’ve risen to the level of government, after looking hard and long at the socioeconomic world in which the American Purge takes place. The implications of such a policy are a sort of trickle down idea in itself, in that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer; worse than that, a lot of the poor die.
My love for this third film even over the other two (which are both excellent in their own right) has a lot to do with the writing: we don’t simply up the ante on the political side, the characters are more rich and developed. Frank Grillo’s Sergeant returns to become a bigger part of the trilogy, which I can’t argue with because any Grillo is good Grillo. Most of all I admire DeMonaco’s focus on white nationalism, the rule of the upper class, revolutionary action (with a returning Edwin Hodge from the other two entries; finally gaining a name and a true purpose), and so much more. A cracking modern horror, maybe one of my favourites this year.
The opening threw me off, honestly. I wasn’t overly pleased with how DeMonaco came off the blocks with a creepy yet cheesy sort of scene. The killer, purging in the annual nastiness, taunts a family – a little later, we understand the only survivor grows up to become anti-Purge Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), crusading against a policy that took her entire family. What I don’t dig amongst all the eerie bits is how the purging killer talks. It is just bad, poor dialogue. There could’ve been much more done with this, and it’s likely to throw off other viewers. I love these movies, but even I started questioning whether I’d enjoy this one after the first few minutes.
Fortunately, this doesn’t extend to the rest. The plot gets into gear quickly after the opening and we’re immersed into the world of America’s Purge once more. The scale of DeMonaco’s concept gets wider, opening up the political angle. Not only that, DeMonaco makes a great inroad to a disturbing addition of “murder tourism” where foreigners come into the U.S. for the sole purpose of killing on Purge Night. The socioeconomics are still at play, as the lower classes see the worst brunt of the Purge policy. The character of Mykelti Williamson, Joe Dixon, is one of my favourite additions to this threequel. He’s an average store owner. He needs Purge Insurance, which gets revoked because of lax payment. Once Senator Roan and Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) must go on the run, they all end up together. This all leads into meeting the Stranger, except now we know his name: Dante Bishop (Hodge). And he’s leading a revolution underground, hoping to assassinate one of the Founding Fathers in order to gain political edge, to end the Purge. This cast is full of great actors that each have a chance to play an interesting character. Running the gamut, DeMonaco writes from the blue collar side (represented here mostly through Joe Dixon), the lower class (Laney Rucker, played by Betty Gabriel, is a former gangster cum Purge Night EMT), right to the upper echelon of power in Senator Roan and her political fight to change American legislature.
The writing is just fantastic. Many scenes are rife with suspense and tension. Better than that, each character’s situation plays well into the overall theme and the film’s message(s). Laney Rucker is super compelling because of her choice to hit the streets as a paramedic; it’s part redemption, part Good Samaritan. Would someone really be good enough to do that, on a night when almost every other person out on the street is looking to commit evil? An interesting juxtaposition. There’s a consistently deeper level of character in this third film; a wide array of people with various lives and different perspectives. One favourite moment of mine isn’t even horror-centric. Joe Dixon helps his new friends on the run with his invocation of the Crip Whistle, which is an excellent bit of writing to include. This takes us away from a typical horror. Not often do the Crips get a shoutout in the genre, nor do they usually help out the good guys. So using Joe’s vague past (a moment DeMonaco could’ve slipped into exposition but instead keeps cryptic) as a means to move the plot forward is solid work. Then there’s Dante, who we formerly saw as The Stranger in the original, being chased and almost subject to a Purge murder; in the sequel, he turned up again. Here, he’s come a long way, as a vigilante philanthropist due to his own personal experience. He’s a great parallel to Senator Roan in that sense. They’ve both experienced terror on Purge Night, only to head off on uniquely divergent paths. And only to come together again. So much smart writing on DeMonaco’s part. Definitely the best written of the trilogy.
So many creepy bits. Definitely some of the creepiest of the three films. Like when Candy Bar Girl’s Christmas light-covered car arrives, the women in their outrageously unsettling masks. Terrifying stuff. Never has Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” been so spooky. Afterwards, the group of Eastern European killers dressed in American-themed costumes – Uncle Sam, Abe Lincoln, Statue of Liberty – are even more sinister, unsettling. There’s also a high degree of violence, of course. Laney blasts someone away with a shotgun; a deliciously savage and impressive practical effect. The action is even bigger this time around, as we’re treated to a few large action pieces throughout. Yet the horror reigns, as Purgers rally in the streets, some with a makeshift pendulum blade to cut people into bloody pieces, some sitting in a trance as bodies burn in the streets. The wildest is when we see the Purge mass, an unnerving combination of church and state: “Purge and purify!” Also, you can clearly note the New Founding Fathers are all old, greying white men. No surprise, right? So perfect.
I’ve rated each of the other two films with 4 stars. This one is different. I have to note that The Purge: Election Year is better because it plays harder into the socioeconomic policy at the centre of the movies, in many ways. I looked online to see what people were saying, and so many people seemed to lament that this was ‘too political’ or something similar. Really? This has ALWAYS been a political-themed series, right from the get go. And if you missed that, well I’m not sure why you’re even bothering to watch or comment. This is a series rooted in real life, even if it’s outrageous and over-the-top. This would never happen, though what we’re able to see – and what scares me most personally – is how the America people know today could possibly lead to something so wild. Taking on a bunch of different perspectives, James DeMonaco reaches a height of epic proportions. Excited to see what happens with the newly planned television series.