Review: Insane Action & Violent Politics in 'The Purge: Election Year'
by Jeremy Kirk
July 4, 2016
We are once again at that time of year when the air is filled with excitement as well as an abundance of explosions. Sure, that could mean 4th of July fireworks and grilling with friends. It could also be referring to another, American pastime, this one a little newer and a lot more exciting. That would be the annual Purge, 12 hours when all crime, including murder, is perfectly legal and the people of this country – those who don't hide behind locked doors – are allowed to get their own, individual aggression out. It's become such a successful tradition – on film, anyway – that the third entry in the franchise, The Purge: Election Year, makes its way in front of our eyes. Once again sights of twisted violence mix with political & social themes, and once again this series turns a mirror on its audience to deliver a fully charged, eye-opening good time.
As with the previous entries, Election Year is written and directed by James DeMonaco, and though his first film was an intriguing concept that left much to be desired, he's all but made up for it with the two follow-ups. The Purge: Anarchy (my review for that film) was an insane actioner that fully delivered on the original film's promise but one that also helped develop the political rumblings growing underneath all the chaos. This third film, however, sees DeMonaco blending the two better than ever, and the results may infuriate you as much as they satiate your appetite for violent depravity.
In the film it's 2025, two years after the events of Anarchy and two years since police Sergeant Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) spared the life of the man responsible for his son's death. Barnes has since moved from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. where he serves as head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a task that may soon prove to be difficult. You see, Senator Roan is an idealist who believes the rules regarding the annual Purge are designed to weed out the poor while the wealthy sit comfortably behind safe walls. It is her crusade to once and for all put an end to this nasty tradition that resulted in her entire family being murdered 18 years prior. She has very personal reasons to see The Purge become a thing of America's past, and, as the primaries loom, she has a very strong chance of becoming the next President.
Needless to say those in charge, the New Founding Fathers of America, have other ideas for Senator Roan, and they don't a involve launching federal investigation into her email usage. Politics in the near future have changed drastically from where we're at in 2016. The NFFA announces that the rule granting all high-ranking, government officials immunity during Purge Night has been revoked, and everyone is fair game this particular year. It isn't long before Barnes and Senator Roan are on the run, on the streets of D.C., and right in the heart of the madness that has kept America great.
The seeds for this move into political commentary have been present since The Purge first came to theaters in 2013. DeMonaco's original film merely hinted at the social hypocrisy of the Purge concept and roughly skimmed over the out-and-out insanity going on around the country during. That film wasn't a huge success critically, but the concept alone was rife with potential. Thankfully, DeMonaco's idea has been allowed to flourish with the two follow-ups delivering on that original film's promise. The Purge: Anarchy more than lived up to first film's potential for insane violence with Election Year gunning full-throttle on the social implications.
The filmmaker's directing abilities have continued to grow with each film as well. Election Year may never reach the maniacal level of Anarchy, but its mixture of aberrant intensity and social commentary makes for the most complete, single film this franchise has seen. The structuring is quite similar to that of the second film: a small group goes from street to street encountering the wide range of mayhem of which human beings are capable. It tends to slip into familiar territory more often than not, but DeMonaco's team of artists and set and costume designers make the proceedings more and more interesting. You never knew how creepy American iconography could be.
Much of the cast seems familiar, as well, though Grillo is the only returning player of the bunch. Once again he is rock solid as Barnes and proves he's the go-to performer when you need a street-level badass for protection. Mitchell is equally impressive as Senator Roan, though you do wish she were a little more of a leader than follower when the madness hits.
Mykelti Williamson and Betty Gabrial are effective as D.C. citizens who get swept up in mayhem, and Edwin Hodge is good as the leader of a revolutionary movement designed to put an end to The Purge. As strong as the supporting players are you can't help but notice the commonality in their characters from much of what we've seen before. Raymond J. Barry and Kyle Secor play members of the NFFA with an affluent air of creepiness, and you wish for more from them throughout much of the film.
Despite this familiarity in many of the characters and much of the action, Election Year continues the exciting tradition set forth by the preceding films, and it does so with quite solid results. The action is on par with Anarchy, and the commentary DeMonaco has been building throughout the series finally gets the due it deserves. Looking at the political and social insanity going on around the world in 2016 you may think, justly, we're not too far off from DeMonaco's original vision, this idea that a civilization addicted to violence will turn a blind eye from the depravity it allows to occur. It's a world we may only be a few years from, but, for now, The Purge: Election Year will have to rest its laurels on exactly what it is: damn fine entertainment.