The Purge returns for an election year, which is relevant today due to our strange political climate.
The unlikely franchise was a hit in 2013, but the 2014 sequel was surprisingly smarter, edgier and a bigger box office smash. With virtual unknowns, the film, written and directed by James DeMonaco, is political horror set in the future. One night a year crime is legal, including murder, which was instituted by the New Founding Fathers of America. Purging allegedly “releases the beast” and brings down crime, but in reality purging is a bonanza for the wealthy.
The Purge: Anarchy, in 2014, smartly connected the intersections of race and class with clear takeaways on how the rich exploit the poor. Although horror is usually a vapid genre, The Purge was layered with social issues to make the audience think beyond the gore. The Purge: Election Year isn’t smart or layered enough to justify the gratuitous violence. Instead, The Purge dismantles itself into another horror flick. That said, Election Year is the worst one yet, but still entertaining for today’s horror standards.
The Purge: Election Year introduces a political candidate, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), whose mission is to end the annual purge. Her security head, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo, who was in the 2014 installment), is ordered to protect her, which is no easy task when the New Founding Fathers of America are on the hunt for Senator Roan. After dodging an assassination attempt, Roan and Leo end up in a poverty-stricken Washington, D.C., neighborhood, trying to decipher friend from foe. Shootings, stabbings, torture and violence ensues, but void of the commentary the franchise is known for.
Considering the possible horror of President Trump, terrorist attacks and mass shootings,The Purge: Election Year arrives at a complex time, requiring more wit and nuance than just bloodshed. The third installment of the franchise falters with less suspense, cheap violence, weak storytelling and a camp factor the previous versions never had. Furthermore, revolving the entire storyline around a senator — the damsel in distress cliché — who is on the run, dismantles the interconnecting stories of race and class. Previously, characters consisted of a single mother, a stubborn teenage daughter, an aging grandfather, a bickering couple, revolutionaries, a man seeking revenge and more. In The Purge: Election Year, the characters' only function is to protect a hopeful president, which is seriously predictable. Within the first 10 minutes, you can guess the ending.
The script is tainted with eye-rolling one-liners like, "Give me my candy!" and "We are sitting here in front of these Negros looking like a bucket of chicken." Luckily, the actors are all strong, especially Edwin Hodges, who reprises his role as Dante, the only actor to appear in all three films. Side note: Betty Gabriel as Laney was a complete bad ass as gun-toting rebel defending her people at all costs. Any scene with her shined; unfortunately, she didn't get enough screen time.
The anticipation is high for The Purge: Election Year, so the film might be another success at the box office. If there is another version left in DeMonaco, hopefully he'll return to The Purge’s roots of wit, gore and nuance. Overall, the weakest of the franchise, but it has moments of being a crowd pleaser.
The Purge: Election Year is in theaters now. And enjoy a #TBT clip of the original Purge star, Ethan Hawke, on 106 & Park, above.
(Photo: Universal Pictures)