Movie Review : The Purge: Election Year (2016)
Everyone with an internet connection has heard of The Purge movies. The concept is simple: the American government invented a national holiday where crime is legalized for twelve hours. Of course, it leads people to murder family, friends and colleagues for petty shit that happened throughout the year. Or sometimes it’s just for no reason at all. The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy generated great dialogue over the plausibility and the motivations of such a terrifying idea. It seemed like the planet was finally ready to move on from Saw movies on Halloween.
The Purge: Election Year predictably came out in 2016, in the midst of the U.S presidential election and the eventual triumph of a man who could play himself in these movies: Donald Trump. The Purge suddenly didn’t seem so far away. But is there something left to say about it? After watching Election Year, I’m not sure.
So, The Purge: Election Year is more or less of a direct sequel to The Purge: Anarchy. It features the same lead Leo Barnes (schlock immortal Frank Grillo), who’s moved on from his career in the police forces. He’s now a bodyguard for a presidential candidate (Elizabeth Mitchell), a purge survivor with a fervent abolitionist stance, who’s… surprise, suprise… getting targeted by political opponents on Purge night. Normally, public officials would receive immunity from the event, but since they want to prove a point against a political opponent, well… no one is safe and, of course, all hell breaks loose.
I’m confused by the Purge. It’s supposed to be an economic cleansing system meant to eliminate the more “needy” social classes, but it’s not always clear who actually enjoys it the most. It’s especially the case in The Purge: Election Year. Everybody, but the protagonists and a small pocket of people hiding in an industrial building is out there in the street, killing the shit out of each other. For example, supporting character Joe (Mykelti Williamson) is dealing with a psychotic teenage shoplifter coming for him with gold plated AK-47s on Purge night after he caught her red-handed. See for yourselves:
Why would someone that age Purge so fearlessly? And where would she find the financial support for such theatricality? Is anybody Purging afraid to die? If the Purge had any semblance of realism, everyone would shack up in terror inside their own homes, talk mad shit on the internet and there would only be a couple of courageous loons prowling the streets. That was my main problem with The Purge: Election Year. Outside of the Senator Roan vs New Founding Fathers showdown, every source of tension was confusing and artificial. Washington DC turns into an inescapable battlefield and everybody, except Leo and the Senator, seem pretty happy with Purging.
The driving idea behind The Purge: Election Year is: can you violently take America back from those who perverted with violence in the first place? Idealists will tell you no. Because you if kill people that champion recreational murder, you have zero credibility to instill peace. Pragmatists will tell you yes. Because if people enforce the unfair, bloodthirsty legislation with guns, you’ll eventually need guns. But The Purge: Election Year doesn’t really take a stance between these two philosophies. Both outcomes literally happen during the movie, so I felt cheated.
So, what’s next for The Purge movies? There’s a television show going on, right now and I have no idea whether it’s good or not. But after The Purge: Election Year, the only sequel I’d be interested in seeing would be told from a Purge enthusiast perspective. Where you could witness him bottle up his rage, purchase weaponry, pick a disguise, etc. So that it would better explain that culture that incites people to kill without seemingly fearing being killed themselves. Because that’s the last great mystery the Purge movies haven’t explained. And you know, for a series that branded itself as brainy murder movies, I think it owes us that.
Get to work, James DeMonaco!