A review of ‘The Purge: Election Year’

 By Ryen Thomas

July 2, 2016

The Purge: Election Year is a thought-provoking follow up in a franchise that’s half slasher thriller/half political and social commentary. Once again we are shown an utopian/dystopian world with a government-sponsored holiday of lawlessness (as in legalized murder) and all the madness that goes on around it.

Do you need to see the first two films to enjoy the third? No, but it does help to in order to appreciate the filmmaker’s full vision. In three films, director/writer James DeMonaco pulls out all the punches, first depicting the plight of the yuppy and then building up to themes grappling populism versus fascism at large:

The Purge shows the home of one family seeking security.

Purge: Anarchy shows a community of have nots who can’t afford to defend themselves.

Purge: Election Year goes national. We meet the New Founding Fathers running things and the folks who rage against the machine, questioning their twisted patriotism and religiosity.

Purge: Assassins
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Heavy stuff from a summer flick conveniently coming out around the birth of our nation. But let’s not forget that Purge seeks to gain viewers hungry for popcorn and gore (thanks to advertising that would have viewers expecting something akin to Saw). How does it speak against a culture of violence, show us pure horror, and manage to stay on the moral high road without falling on its own sword?

The answer lies with the filmmaker’s use of characterization and point of view. Purge: Election Year becomes a war film and like all good war films, we have heroes and see what they are fighting for and against.

Frank Grillo returns as Leo Barnes, the Clint Eastwood like hero from Anarchy. This time around he has to keep the rogue Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) safe. Roan is cool headed, daring and motivated by the past trauma that drives her to run for the Presidency and abolish the purge; an objective that puts a target on her head.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Actor Mykelti Williamson, best known for his role as Bubba in the 1994 classic, Forrest Gump  plays Joe. Like he did with Bubba, Williamson steals the scenes with some of the best lines.

During the holiday, Joe’s goal is to protect what belongs to him, including friends. Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel) grew up under Joe’s watch and gets a moment that makes her look like the Ripley (butt kicking protagonist from the Alien franchise) of the bunch. Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) is an immigrant who works for Joe and his character nicely defies the image a certain 2016 Presidential candidate tries to paint.  

One highlight of the movie has Joe and company versus a bunch of school girls. I’m not sure what was more disturbing: the girl’s malicious intent or how their arrival is cleverly scored by a distorted version of “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus.

Purge: Assassins
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

While the way that our rag-tag bunch of would-be soldiers come together feels contrived, the chemistry between them works. Through their eyes we see the most horrifying acts of brutality. Their reaction provokes our reaction, having us feel their rage, fear, need to protect the people under their care and save the moral consciousness of humanity.

In a perfect world, this should be the last time we see any of them in a Purge movie, because concluding with this film would make a tidy franchise.

Star Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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