It is certainly no coincidence that this, the third in the Purge franchise, focuses on a fictional election the same year that Americans will be voting in a real one. The big question is which portrays a more realistic version of democracy – the fictional or real one? Both involve corrupt and unbelievable characters, endless/unexpected/ludicrous plot twists, extreme conservatism and an ominous sense of prickling terror. If only the film version was less stupid than reality by actually exploring its themes with nuance as opposed to bludgeoning the audience over the head with cloying sentiment and throwaway B-movie one liners. That’s what we’ve got Donald Trump for.
In 2022 Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) was the only member of her family to survive an attack by a masked purger. 18 years on and she is now a senator, a true rival to the New Founding Fathers of America who have held office for the past 25 years and established The Purge. She promises her first bill upon obtaining office would be to eliminate The Purge as she knows first-hand how devastating it is. Judging by the riots in the streets in the days leading up to the next Purge, many of the nation agrees with her. All too aware of the threat she has become the NFFA decide there is only one thing for it – get rid of political immunity during The Purge and then get rid of Senator Roan. When the 25th annual Purge begins her head of security, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), quickly realises they have been betrayed. It is up to Leo to keep Charlie alive for the next 12 hours, at no cost and trusting nobody.
There are some things the film does well. There are more than enough jolts to semi-launch you out of your seat. The characters are a varying degree of entertaining. Considering its $10 million budget – in comparison Suicide Squad had a budget of $175 million – Election Year has the best production values of the entire franchise so far. Then there’s the fact the franchise itself is founded on an excellent idea, one which appears to be increasingly and shrewdly founded further and further in reality with each passing day’s newspaper headlines. Film number one, The Purge (2013) started well, establishing its very intriguing landscape dystopian future, before descending into messy and chaotic storytelling. The Purge: Anarchy (2014) was ambitious yet unfocused and regularly nasty. Film number three is better than number two and equal to the first part of the original movie. But what exactly is that really saying?
The main flaw with the entire franchise is that it never really gets to grips with its main message – it could play its socio-political critique in a constructed and intelligent manner. Yet again they have not cashed in on the potential here. The film’s dialogue is littered with cheesy B-Movie-esque one liners uttered by clichéd characters rarely seen this side of straight-to-dvd release. In doing so the political message the film tries to preach is truly undermined, and worse becomes some of a joke. The film easily passes the wittertainment six laugh joke test, though the majority of these laughs come from laughing at the film not with it. Characters even have catchphrases – ‘Good night, blue cheese!’ and ‘I’m thinking about waffles and pussy.’ – to accompany their one dimensional characterisation.
And yet, the film does manage to be quite fun. Yes, the film is frequently very awful and I lost count of the amount of groans of disbelief that emerged within the press screening I attended. Yes, there is nothing new to be seen here. Yes, you will see every ‘twist’ from a mile away. Yes, it is little more than a chase movie. But you will also be entertained enough – just about – not to care so much about these aspects. It’s easy enough to criticizing a film for what it isn’t and could be. What The Purge: Election Year actually provides is a trashy and violent ‘exploitation’ movie that ends up being bonkers fun.
Dir: James DeMonaco
Scr: James DeMonaco
Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel
Prd: Michael Bay, Jason Blum, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller
DOP: Jacques Jouffret
Music: Nathan Whitehead
Run time: 109 minutes
The Purge: Election Year is in UK cinemas August 26th