Review: The Purge: Election Year (2016)

The Purge: Election Year

Rating

Director

James DeMonaco

Screenplay

James DeMonaco

Length

1h 48m

Starring

Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williams, Jospeh Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Terry Serpico, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor, Chief Couper, Adam Cantor, Christopher James Baker, Raymond J. Barry

MPAA Rating

R for disturbing bloody violence and strong language

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Review

With the kind of prescience and good timing that comes with being political these days, The Purge: Election Year managed to simultaneously sum up and reflect the kind of political reality that emerged mere months after its release.

As the modestly political first film gave way to the more pointedly political second film, Purge: Election Year is an even more outwardly political affair on the third go around. Set a few years after the events of the second film, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), who nearly sacrificed his humanity in The Purge: Anarchy, has applied his skills as the chief security specialist for Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a politician who’s family was slaughtered in front of her and who now makes ending the annual Purge her campaign centerpiece. As the independent in the race, the New Founding Fathers Party fears that she could become the next president and end their event.

To that end, they announce that political figures will now be exempted for the first time. Not surprisingly, this turn of events is intended to allow them to snuff out their chief competition. This forces Charlie and Leo to contend with betrayal and continual pursuit as they navigate the city streets hoping to survive until morning.

Never a film series built on strong performances, The Purge: Election Year is nevertheless filled with solid ones. While none of the cast stands out, they mostlywalk the fine line between credibility and cheesiness with great care and success. The only characters that fall into cartoonish territory are the villains of the piece, the politicians hell bent on preserving their annual carnage. Considering their desire to preserve a night of slaughter intended to preserve their majority, this level of outlandishness is perfectly understandable.

What this series has always represented is the idea that there are forces in the world whose desire to subjugate and diminish the poor and minorities are gaining a foothold, especially within the United States. While this film came out just prior to the 2016 presidential election, it was a stinging rebuke of the kind of rhetoric being supported and enabled by the Republican Party, which has only been strengthened over the last couple of years under the kind of grotesque demagoguery exemplified by the villains of this piece.

It’s a rebuke of said demagoguery. While it hasn’t quite reached the level of absurdism exemplified in the evil NFFA members in this film, it’s no less potent. And sometimes the best sociopolitical commentary is the kind that strikes its point from the realm of plausibility. It enables the audience to see parallels and realize just how close we can come to such a world. As Betty Gabriel’s character Laney Rucker observes after a streetside encounter with a wife and her husband: she shot him because she thought it would make her feel better about his infidelity, but it didn’t.

The Purge: Election Year is the third film in a series that has become something of a cultural touchstone for the kind of political commentary that suffuses modern American society. It’s a mirror, a reflection of how far rhetoric and ill-informed bigotry can take a nation. If George Orwell had written in the style of Stephen King, he might have created the dystopian world of The Purge, a cautionary fable for the ills of our culture. While none of these films have been outright masterpieces, they each have a very important function and when discussed from a historical perspective, they seem disturbingly prescient. We can only hope that the reality of the Purge does not become fused with our own.

Review Written

August 22, 2018

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