The Purge: Election Year
In this writer's opinion, The Purge: Anarchy is one of the best genre films of recent vintage. It's gripping from the start and the intensity only accelerates from there. Frank Grillo gives a star-making performance. He exudes cool in that film. So, when the next installment in the series was announced with Grillo reprising his role, my excitement and expectations mounted.
The Purge: Election Year is eerily prescient when viewed in light of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Depressingly so, in fact. While it was made and released before the election, it certainly reflects the country's current political landscape. There's a moment where a character asks, "How did we get here?" She's referring to the annual, government-sanctioned Purge, but it's also a question that an awful lot of us have been asking since November. It's a political film, no doubt about it. In the film’s near-future version of the United States, the party in charge, the New Founding Fathers, are an extreme version of the worst inclinations of our own political leaders. It's a fascist regime that's instituted an annual night of purging, in order to cleanse our country of the rage and hatred. Lower income and nonwhite members of society make up a disproportionate number of victims from the Purge every year. The NFFA is reprehensible, yet in this dystopian future United States it has been accepted by the majority of the population, including the elite and those who feel disenfranchised. For the 1%, it's a chance to wipe the undesirables off the map, to act out their disdain for those without money in the most extreme way possible. For the rest, it's their one night of the year to wield real power by preying on anyone they can find, just to be in control for once.
Appalling as it is to consider, the Purge serves as an enjoyable release for a good number of people. As one character notes early in this film, "The Purge is Halloween for adults!" The Halloween connection is strong, as the filmmakers play off the fears and anxieties associated with the horrors of Halloween by dressing many Purgers in blood-stained and disturbing masks and costumes. The Purge: Election Year outfits many of its Purgers in masks to intensify the horrifying premise. This allows the proceedings to take on an even more macabre sense of hopelessness: how can anyone simply trying to survive the night do so when faced with such vile and gleeful Purgers? The Purgers are letting it all hang out on that one night, and its that freedom to be as evil as they can be, that makes it especially deadly for those trying to ride out the night of terror.
The Purge: Election Year is set several years after the events of the previous film. Frank Grillo's character (finally given a name: Leo) now serves as head of security for a Presidential candidate, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell). Leo is an exceptionally accomplished and skilled former police sergeant. He's like the Punisher, a strong silent type, except with a heart of gold. As in the previous film, Grillo is magnetic in a role he seems born to play. Mitchell makes Charlie a sensitive, compassionate politician, the kind we yearn for but so infrequently find in real life. Charlie's platform rests on her promise to end the Purge should she be elected. She's running against the NFFA candidate, Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor), adding an element of religious commentary to the series' ever-expanding reach.
The Senator begins the night in lockdown with her staff and security team. The NFFA is determined to take Charlie off the board before the election. The night quickly goes awry, as you can imagine. Leo and Charlie are on the run. Eventually they meet up with other citizens trying to survive the night, including wise-cracking convenience store owner Joe (Mykelti Williams), his loyal employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and their bad-ass friend, Laney (Betty Gabriel), an EMT who helps those in need during the Purge. The formula of following a ragtag group of survivors, thrown together by circumstance, is a repeat of the previous film. It's still effective though, and as with The Purge: Anarchy we grow attached to them, as if we have a stake in our protagonists' survival.
In The Purge films, the annual night of terror is a manifestation of the worst traits of human nature. Writer/director James DeMonaco uses explicitly political images and concepts in order to hammer home the point. Certainly it's difficult to imagine a civilized society like the United States ever sanctioning an annual night of murder. Then you remember recent mass shootings, the festering distrust between police and many citizens, the growing animosity between lower and upper classes, and the seemingly increased level of discord in the country overall since the election. So while the concept of the Purge series is pure speculative fiction, it takes current societal troubles as the jumping off point to explore the most extreme, and unpleasant, future scenario possible.
If you're a fan of dystopian horror and action, and like some political and social commentary mixed into your genre exercises, you will likely enjoy The Purge: Election Year. It's a fine addition to the series. It feels like a natural progression and expanding of The Purge series. It's debatable whether or not it's as phenomenal or riveting as The Purge: Anarchy, but it's an immensely engrossing genre thriller that will leave you breathless throughout.