The Purge: Election Year Review
"What happened to this country?"
"Mam, I wish I knew"
So says a couple new characters we meet in "The Purge: Election Year," the new film by James DeMonaco, the third film he has made in his "Purge" series. The series is about a future America which marks one annual day as "Purge Night," and allows all crime to be legal for twelve consecutive hours. Originally intended to be a horror franchise, "The Purge" films have morphed into a sort of social satire/suspense/action franchise, which I think is for the better. Taking a look back at each "Purge" film, including this new one, the scenes that fall flattest are the ones that are intended to be scary. I feel with a premise as silly as "The Purge," you got to go complete B-movie crazy with it.
That was my biggest problem from the first film, which I felt to be a very poorly made film. DeMonaco created a silly yet juicy premise for a movie, then wrapped it entirely around a cardboard home invasion movie. Yes, I get it, he didn't have the money to really relish in this premise. But I can't simply give a movie a pass because of its budget. Despite how horrid it was, "The Purge" became a sleeper hit, and a sequel was immediately made entitled "The Purge: Anarchy." A sequel where we really got to see a balls-to-the-wall representation of a Purge Night. Well, sort of, while the sequel was much better than its predecessor, "Anarchy" never became the mindless mayhem movie I think it should have been, and it made some pretty obvious points without much depth or substance. That's been the biggest problem with DeMonaco's films so far. He wants to tell a social satire that makes some big comments on American society and culture, but he also wants to make a crazy action movie and go wild with his premise. That balance has never really gelled the way it should have.
Surprisingly, "The Purge: Election Year" continues to be a tremendous stride forward in the franchise. Out of the three films made so far, this is by far the best one. "The Purge: Election Year" features the most character development of any of the movies so far, and comes the closest to telling a complete story. Plus, we get the very first glimpse of an entire city affected by The Purge, yes even more so than in "Anarchy." We see how dozens of people react to such a night, from many walks of life. But is all of this enough? The problem with the first two films is how little DeMonaco embraced his idea, now with a much bigger budget than he's ever had before, it seems DeMonaco almost overwhelms himself with his own movie here.
"The Purge: Election Year" revolves around Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who survived a gruesome Purge Night, but watched her entire family die. Now, running for President, she plans to put an end to Purge Night. What frightens the New Founding Fathers of America is that Roan is beginning to gain traction in politics. So they use Purge Night in order to take her out of the picture. Her head of security is Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo, reprising his role from "The Purge:Anarchy") and he will stop at nothing to make sure she lives. The two are quickly on the run on Purge Night, as a group of government assassins is on their tale. They receive help from a deli owner (Mykelti Williamson) and Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge), an underground anti-Purge group leader. Will they all last the night?
Each "Purge" film deals with a group of people trying to survive the night, but we've never got to know the characters on the level we do here. I think Mykelti Williamson has always been a reliable actor, and he's good here. As is Elizabeth Mitchell. The thing is, the two characters who stand out the least are Frank Grillo and Edwin Hodge's characters. We met Frank Grillo's Leo Barnes last movie, but he Grillo seems to be playing a completely different character this time out, his character could have been anybody else and the film would have ended the same way. Edwin Hodge's character is the only character who has appeared in all three films, so why is he so underdeveloped? It leads to some bad narrative problems in the last act.
The biggest problem I have is that, despite three films, DeMonaco never revved his engine. I think he takes his idea a little too seriously, and "The Purge: Election Year" never becomes the crazy mayhem movie I think it should. If you are looking for that type of movie, this isn't it. At the same time, the last two sequels touched on some interesting social ideas, but stopped almost as if DeMonaco was too afraid to make a serious point about anything. In "The Purge: Election Year," its almost shocking the points he makes about the government using violence as a tool, about the negative aspects of religion, class warfare and race. With so much tragedy striking our country in the last few weeks, I think its powerful how hard this one hits home. DeMonaco is finally starting to make some serious points about the social issues he's been circling for three movies now. But he's still hasn't landed them. Not quite.
Why you ask? Perhaps the Purge as an idea is way too silly or perhaps he's conflicted with the mayhem and the craziness of his idea that he doesn't have time for anything else. That is why I suggested earlier in the review that DeMonaco was too overwhelmed by story this time out. Now, that he's made some good points, perhaps he can finally let loose on his idea. If he chooses to make a fourth film. I am slowly starting to think that, a few years down the road, DeMonaco is going to make the "Purge" movie he's been trying to make since 2013. He certainly keeps getting closer and closer.
FINAL GRADE: C+