The Purge: Election Year (2016) Review
The Purge: Election Day is the third in a series of films set at a future date where the United States has one day every year where there are no laws, encouraging murder and mayhem to "release the devils" of the human psyche. In this third offering the political landscape is such that some people would like to see the purge abolished, and one rising political star becomes the target of those who would rather stay with the status quo.
July 1, 2016 (U.S. Theatrical)
Frank Grillo as Leo Barnes
Elizabeth Mitchell as Senator Charlie Roan
Mykeiti Williamson as Joe Dixon
Joseph Julian Soria as Marcos
Betty Gabriel as Laney Rucker
Terry Serpico as Earl Danzinger
Edwin Hodge as Dante Bishop
Kyle Secor as Minister Edwidge Owens
The Purge: Election Year, or as some may choose to call it The Purge 3, is just that – the third installment of a franchise that had it’s first release, The Purge, in theaters in 2013 and starring Ethan Hawke. The concept, for those who don’t know, is that in the United States in the year 2021 crime and poverty hit such highs that the country was at risk of falling apart all together. A group called the “New Founders” came up with a program that would end up solving all the nation’s ills – allow for complete lawlessness, including murder, to be legal for 12 hours every day. The rationale for this drastic step is to permit humans to express their most base instincts, and therefore be purged of them for a period of time. Society soared with this new law in place, with unemployment close to zero and poverty and violent crime practically ceasing to exist. But at what cost to those not rich enough to protect themselves from the savagery with expensive security systems and steel doors?
Enter the Purge: Election Year. After decades of this societal release valve the political tide begins to change. Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is a candidate for President of the United States, and her platform is firmly in the camp of “No Purge”. Eighteen years earlier Ms. Roan watched the rest of her family killed by a loony purger, and made it her life’s mission to end the madness. As election time nears, so does the annual purge, and there are those who are none-too-happy with the thought of the cash cow that has the additional benefit of ridding the U.S. of the poorest and most vulnerable among us, coming to an end. Things could get hairy for Ms. Roan when all of the rules go by the wayside for 12 hours.
The Purge: Election Year is super fun, and really goes exactly where it needs to as the third installment of a series. Let’s face it, how many films can we have where the meat of the plot and action surrounds that 12 hour period when neighbor turns against neighbor and killing for revenge or sport is expected? The first film introduced us to the concept and the ugliness of what can happen when envious eyes become deadly weapons, and the second introduced the moral dilemma around the concept and how it shatters one’s humanity. So what of the third? The end must be in sight, or something else dramatic needs to occur. Like The Hunger Games… how many films of just one more hunger game with teens trying to kill each other would remain interesting? We don’t want to get so far down the road that the only thing new is Arthur Fonzarelli jumping a shark tank in his motorcycle in a can’t-miss episode of Happy Days… where the term “Jump the Shark” comes from for those who don’t know. To avoid ending in disaster, the story needs to be furthered with each installment. With this film the story definitely is.
The characters in Election Year are all great – believable, well acted, and fleshed out enough that the audience can actually care about them. For the most part this has been a hallmark of the series from the beginning, a tribute to writer/director James Demonaco who has stayed with the franchise from the beginning. I will say though, even though I’ve watched all of the films and thoroughly enjoyed each of them, I didn’t realize that Detective Leo Barnes, played by Frank Grillo, is the same guy who played the male lead in the second entry The Purge: Anarchy and worked through his moral and humanity issues. In the second he is a grieving father seeking revenge on the drunk driver who killed his son, and in the third he is the hired head of security for Senator Charlie Roan. Other standouts are Elizabeth Mitchell as the senator determined to bring the purge to an end, and a fantastic and funny performance by Mykeiti Williamson as deli-owner Joe Dixon, ex-gangster turned shop owner with a heart of gold. Very well played across the board.
One of the areas where a film like this can go terribly wrong is in the politics and social commentary, especially with a title like “Election year” in what is actually an election year in the United States, and a contentious one at that. Movies are known to make a statement, and there’s no problem with that. When said films become effectively a campaign ad for a candidate or issue, that’s where I draw the line. Extremely annoying. I will never forgive the shit-boxes responsible for the reprehensible Saw VI for doing just that – using the pet project of new President Barack Obama, namely universal healthcare, as the driving force for Jig Saw’s murderous ways. If only we had Universal Healthcare like Obama wants, nobody would have died. And there would have been no need to brutally punish those evil healthcare insurance salespeople. So lame. But thankfully, we are spared that kind of overt tomfoolery with Election Year. Current issues, are touched upon or hinted at, and societal issues fresh off the lips of current politicians were not ignored, but hardly any of it was rammed down our throats. The one exception of that concerns a militia hired to perform an assassination – how important was it to the storyline to make sure the camera focuses on the back of one of their shirts to show the “White Power” patch? And what about those Confederate Flags plastered all over the lead villain’s outfit? I’ll tell you – not important at all. This had nothing whatsoever to do with the story, other than James Demonaco’s determination to say “the really bad people are racist white people”. It was random, irrelevant, and what seemed like a last minute attempt to add in some kind of statement that had nothing to do with anything. But, other than that, we were allowed to be more subtly propagandized rather than overtly, which I always appreciate.
In the end, The Purge: Election Year is a big win, hitting all cylinders with great violence and gore, a good story, excellent pacing and characters to care about. This is just the right way to end the series… or is it. Just before the final credits we hear a newscast about some discontent among the United States citizenry that definitely leaves the door open to “just one more”. Time will tell, but either way number 3 stands out as a good use of celluloid.
The Purge: Election Year does what a third installment of a franchise needs to do - wrap it up, but leave room for another installment if fans demand it. This film is action-packed from just about beginning to end, with characters to fall in love with and a new purge scenario that is believeable as well as relevant to current events. Great gore and kill scenes as well, with clear heroes and villains.
More and more horror films, along with all other genres of film, can tend to be platforms for filmmakers hell bent on proving they are relevant important to make political and social statements. With a title like "Election Year", The Purge 3 could have been a disaster in this regard. Luckily the digs on those social elements the filmmakers did not like were minimal. They were there, and that is a bit annoying, but the full-on activist political platform ad this could have become didn't materialize. So both a negative, and a positive since there was some restraint shown.