The Purge: Election Year

After an arguably uncertain start, The Purge managed to move past it’s home invasion themed first movie to fully realise it’s potential as a John Carpenter style dystopian thriller by taking the action out of the home of Ethan Hawke’s upper class white family and literally taking it to the streets with a more diverse cast being led by Frank Grillo in full Punisher mode.
Finally realising the potential of it’s highly politically charged concept – the white, ruling class of America have juggled things so that for one night a year, all crime is legal in order to keep… well, order, basically – The Purge: Anarchy allowed us to experience the event from the ground as the night’s experiences of three groups of people converged as they tried to survive twelve hours of madman, maniacs and masks. Well, Purge creator James DeMonico returned in 2016 to once again guide us by the hand to this alternate America where a suprising percentage of the population is batshit insane while being equally good at crafting iconic masks…

Twelve years ago, Charlie Roan’s family was butchered on Purge Night but since then she’s dedicated her professional career as a senator (who’s choice of glasses weirdly make her look she’s filming a porn parody) to making it to the White House in order to stop this annual event once and for all. This obviously sit well with the current ruling body, the New Founding Fathers of America, who lift the Purge Night ban on targeting government officials in an effort to show to the country that the titular evening in question doesn’t just benefit the rich, but in actuality it’s to give them appropriate cover to slap a great big target on the troublesome senator.
Thankfully, the head of Roan’s security team is none other than the absurdly grizzled Leo Barnes from the previous movie who was planning to use that night to gain vengence for the death of his son, but instead ended up killing a whole bunch of other people while protecting the random strangers who found themselves under his charge. Dedicating everything he has to trying to keep the defiant senator safe, Leo’s finds out that he’s about to earn some serious overtime when the NFFA sends a far-right strike team to assassinate Roan in order to offset the lead she has in the polls (more decisive than kissing babies, I guess) and while on the run, the fleeing duo run into black shop owner Joe, whose raised insurance rates has meant that him and his latino protege, Marcos, has tooled up to protect the deli themselves. Teaming up with Laney, a reformed Purger who now drives an EMT triage unit to make amends the group strive to keep Roan safe in order for her to win the election and end Purge Night once and for all, however, further salvation may be at hand thanks to an underground band of urban resistance fighters who have their own ways of rigging the election…

So with our third night of bullets and blood, we unfortunately take a step back in quality from the massively underrated Purge: Anarchy with a third film that tries too hard to duplicate the dystopian thrills of it’s predecessor while simultaneously trying to rope in a standard action thriller plot that may up the stakes, but it also manages to dilute  the political themes that made the franchise so intriguing in the first place.
Anarchy was a snapshot of a single night where all the disparate souls trapped on the streets on the one day more stressful than Black Friday had to band together to survive and the key to it’s success was keeping things low-key. The only stakes were the lives of the seemingly insignificant citizens who gravitated to Frank Grillo’s ex-cop anti-hero while he got fatefully sidetracked from his mission of revenge and this more intimate look at the Purge phenomenon made this world gone mad all the more convincing. Election Year, on the other hand, tries to go for a big finish with the future of Purge Night itself and the very soul of America on the line as the usual rag tag bunch of everyday folks try to make a difference in the face of a massively corrupt government and countless maniacs cosplaying the demons that live rent free in their heads. Now while this itself isn’t enough to destabilise the movie, but the fact that the movie also decides to cast subtlety to wind is kind of counter productive to the franchise’s aims.
The first issue is that now all the purgers are obviously hopelessly insane and it’s virtually impossible to accept that any of these people could resist the urge to immediately devolve into gurning lunatics who skip through carnage singing nursery rhymes for twenty minutes, let alone 364 days. Take the gang of horribly entitled school girls who lay siege to Joe’s deli; while they look fantastic (the style of the entire franchise is admittedly beyond reproach), the performances are all so overdone it starts to veer into the realms of fantasy. Also, you ever notice how the only crime featured seem to be murder? No professional heists, robberies or GTA seem to occur at all and if all crime was legal for a whole twelve hours, you can bet your life I’d be on Amazon with a stolen credit card before you can say overnight delivery.
Anyway, my feeble attempts at crime aside, Election Year manages to dilute it’s themes even further by fully portraying the New Founding Fathers of America as cartoonish, pale, desicated, gargoyles that resemble a psychotic version of Judge Whitey from Futurama and who go full Illuminati with murder masses that make the secret society seen in Eyes Wide Shut look like a working man’s club in Scunthorpe. Making the villians blatantly act like, well, villains, make you wonder how the fuck these guys got into power in the first place and making them far more insidiously normal would have made them far more terrifying, even in a post-Trump world where political subtlety has died a death. The banal reasons for The Purge (keep down government spending by saving on welfare and benefits by killing the people that require them) is far more gut wrenching than making them get the tingles at the prospect of their yearly sacrifice…

Despite slightly derailing The Purge’s penultimate act (The First Purge came next but is a prequel for the franchise while the upcoming The Forever Purge should be the wrap up), the action is still brutal and slick and Frank Grillo is still awesome despite his arc being so flat it wouldn’t even make the bubble in a spirit level twitch and while the script still manages to chuck in the occasion cool idea (murder tourists), it’s a shame that the core concept has descended into becoming just another gaudy action flick.
Electile dysfunction…

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