The Purge: Election Year, 2016.
Directed by James DeMonaco.
Starring Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Edwin Hodge, Mykelti Williamson and Raymond J. Barry.
On the eve of another annual ‘Purge’, a Senator running for President, intent on stopping the violent ‘holiday’ for good, is targeted for political assassination amidst a wave of horror across Washington D.C…
Ever since becoming a break out home invasion horror hit with its first film, The Purge franchise has billowed outwards under writer-director James DeMonaco to dig deeper into the central socio-political concept underpinning the gory, torture-porn stylistics on the surface, namely the idea that America has ‘lost its soul’ as many characters in the third sequel, Election Year, state, and has succumbed via the annual purge to its basest, vilest instincts. In a year when the world of politics seems to be going to hell in a handcart, DeMonaco’s semi-dystopian near future in which the American government are ran by an elitist, self-serving, murderous cabal who seek to use a violent ‘holiday’ as a cover to eliminate the poorest of the population, doesn’t seem strangely far fetched, even if on the surface the idea is melodramatic and just plain bonkers. Election Year straddles that line between lunacy and thrills with meaning, never quite escaping its B-movie, schlocky roots but much like its previous film, Anarchy, always manages to be saying something lightly satirical under the surface.
If you’ve ever seen the TV show 24 though, you’ll be right at home here, as Election Year plays like a condensed season of that real-time show, if it had been given an extra dose of anarchic, unhinged horror. Frank Grillo returns as Leo Barnes from Anarchy, having transformed from The Punisher into a Jack Bauer-esque lethal government agent protecting Elizabeth Mitchell’s Senator Charlie Roan, in the running for President and a woman marked by a previous purge which killed her family. She wants the ‘holiday’ gone, considering it a poison, but in doing so she stokes the ire of uber villains the New Founding Fathers (wonderfully encapsulated as an Illuminati-esque cabal at the beginning, spearheaded by a profane Raymond J. Barry, chewing pulp lines with relish).
It’s a natural evolution from the moral and political undertones of Anarchy that Election Year would be the next step, using the purge as cover for a political assassination by forces who don’t want the status quo messed with. DeMonaco clearly means to paint Mitchell as the Hillary Clinton to Barry’s uber-Trump ultimately, leading a very Republican-esque secret group of leaders. As political commentary and satire, it’s not exactly oblique but the point is clear, and doesn’t get too often in the way of the violence and action.
Much like in Anarchy however, the political angles–though driving the plot this time around–are not all DeMonaco plays with. He enjoys reflecting the purge in the eyes of the little people, with the always solid Mykelti Williamson here as a staunch, pessimistic but heroic shop owner named Joe, determined to protect his store after his ‘purge insurance’ premiums go up, from the lunatics on the street – crazed gangs of rebuked teenage girls, European ‘murder tourists’ who dress up as the original Founding Fathers to slaughter & enjoy America’s freedom on this night to kill.
While DeMonaco doesn’t make encountering these fringe elements as central to the story as he did in Anarchy, which benefited a touch from being in the line of fire, he covers plenty of interesting angles and elements of the purge as these characters are hunted by neo-Nazi death squads in the pay of the nefarious NFFA; perhaps the most chilling is an all-American housewife singing lullabies on a bench as a body burns in the street before her. As with the previous film, DeMonaco paints images of a deeper moral, ethical sense of mythology to these films he never really gets chance to explore fully, but they’re there. Equally while his characters are all enjoyable in their varied roles, they’re fairly stock creations, and once again he defines the finale with a moral choice – only one which lacks the emotional impact of Grillo’s character in Anarchy.
All that being said, Election Year–if this ends The Purge franchise, as it could well do by the climax if the studio choose to–is a fitting finale for a series which has only, on the whole, gotten better. James DeMonaco manages to blend here that fusion of creepy, home invasion horror with political, subversive action stylistics better than he did in the more pulp, revenge thriller Anarchy, but in escalating the narrative to be full on, horrific political conspiracy he loses some of the satirical and anarchic power of the second film, still the best of the franchise by a yard. Election Year has plenty to say about our current political system, couched in the lunatic melodrama at the heart of the story, but as it strives to remain a B-movie intent on blood, gore and shocks, it never emerges from its pulp stylistics. A fine finale, nonetheless, to a franchise on the whole very much underrated.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★