I liked The Purge. I absolutely loved The Purge: Anarchy. Even though the creative team stayed in place, they were two wildly different experiences. The former relied completely on its unique premise to get by. Once the premise was in place, it played it safe with the narrative and didn’t do anything that most people wouldn’t have seen coming. The characters were solid, but pretty typical. And in my opinion, there were almost no surprises. But it covered the basic core concept, and you need to walk before you can run.
When the sequel came along, director/co-writer James DeMonaco (who returns for this third installment) and his team really thought outside of the box and played with the deeper implications of and motivations behind the existence of an annual Purge. The characters were rounder and more completely developed with clear motivations to their beliefs and actions. Little unexpected consequences and uses of the Purge were introduced and the entire world was fleshed out to completion. In addition, it served as a social commentary, reflecting a disturbing mindset within a certain sect of Americans at the time. If Anarchy bothered you from a philosophical point of view, you have to ask yourself why it got to you. In addition to all of that, Frank Grillo and Kiele Sanchez were added to the cast. Both of them are underrated talents who need more high-profile roles. Grillo is also Brock Rumlow/Crossbones in the two most recent Captain America films (I was fortunate enough to meet Grillo, earlier this year, and took the opportunity to tell him how much I enjoyed the film), whereas Sanchez made a splash in Lost and then stole the show in the overlooked classic horror-thriller, A Perfect Getaway. As a result of the multi-layered nature of the film and the cast additions, The Purge: Anarchy may have been the biggest pleasant surprise (creatively speaking) of 2014.
With the third installment, The Purge: Election Year, the series become more topical than ever. I’m not sure if DeMonaco was especially prescient or if the timing is a happy (?) accident but the narrative behind Election Year reflects where America is to a frightening level. Sure, it’s an exaggerated version of modern America, but one can’t help but ask, “For how long?”
Election Year takes some threads that were hinted at in Anarchy regarding the true motivations behind the Purge and fully explores them. It’s as if DeMonaco is holding up a mirror and demanding that we, as Americans, look at ourselves and course-correct before true disaster happens. Because, in the universe of the Purge, true disaster has happened, just by nature of the Purge existing, at all.
Fortunately, out protagonists are determined to do something that will enact change. Frank Grillo returns as Leo Barnes (he has a name, now), professional badass, and the cast exchanges one Lost alumna for another as Kiele Sanchez steps out and Elizabeth Mitchell steps in as presidential candidate Senator Charlie Roan. They are joined by other survivors (who I won’t spoil) in an effort to take control of the country, put an end to the Purge, and truly make America great, again. But they have to survive the night to do it, and Roan’s political adversaries want to ensure that doesn’t happen.
As always, Mitchell brings a certain class to the proceedings. She simply exudes poise and intelligence and plays her role perfectly. Her Senator Roan represents the voice of reason that is sorely needed in a society that is plagued by fear and insecurity. It’s a voice that is speaking to the characters and to the audience. The role is important and carries a responsibility with it that Mitchell carries effortlessly.
The film, as a whole, is incredibly topical and political, as I’ve alluded to. But it’s also a horror/action hybrid and it succeeds on both levels, though it probably leans a little more closely to the action side. While solid, I don’t feel that the staging and the choreography are quite up to the standard that Anarchy set, but it was all strong enough and most people probably won’t notice much of a difference. Along those lines, the character work is also quality, but not quite to the level of Grillo’s Sergeant and Sanchez’s Liz in Anarchy. Still good, though, and I consider character the single most important element of storytelling so I would say so if I thought otherwise.
The fact is that Election Year had more important things to take care of than the previous films. It’s obvious that DeMonaco is terrified about where America is heading and both his desperation for a solution and his level of investment pour forth from this film. One scene, in particular, plays very much like the Donald Trump rallies we’ve all heard so much about and seen on the news, but taken just a couple of relatively small steps further. But the entire point of the film is that if people can justify all they’ve said and/or done, so far, they can very well justify the next step or two. That’s what makes Election Year so scary.
While the entire Purge series is a well-made franchise of horror-action films, they’re also about something deeper, which is what sets them apart from the rest of the pack. Election Year, specifically, makes an effort to get the attention of the good people of America – and the world, as a whole – to rise up and stop the repressive thinking, fear-mongering, and avarice that threatens, as Senator Roan says, the soul of the country. What’s especially great about this film is that it manages to work on both the literal and metaphorical levels, which is something that another film I recently saw could stand to learn from.
The Purge: Election Year is a thrilling horror film that also has a brain and a conscience. It implores its audience to find their respective brain and conscience, as well. If you aren’t up to being challenged, this one might not be for you. But otherwise, Election Year is like a wholesome meal and a guilty-pleasure dessert in one, expertly crafted meal.
And, with that, I successfully make it to the halfway point of the 2016 Movie March to 100 and I do it on the last day of the first half of the year! That was not intentional, but it certainly seems like serendipity! (Have you seen Serendipity? It has Kate Beckinsale!) To celebrate, I’ve launched a Facebook page for the site, which you can like by opening up the sidebar and scrolling towards the bottom. I hope you do just that and thank you for supporting this passion of mine!