Written by: Matt Molgaard
Directed by: James DeMonaco
Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson
I’ve been dedicated to the horror genre for 30 years. It’s always been an absurd passion of mine, and outside of my family, first and foremost, and mixed martial arts, nothing else comes close to keeping me so engrossed and loyal. I can tell you right now, in the 30 years I’ve spent in love with this genre, I can’t recall any instance in which a franchise has gotten better each outing, through three films.
The Purge franchise is the first to accomplish that, as far as my memory serves.
Full disclosure: The initial Purge film annoyed the living hell out of me. Every wrong decision a character can make in a film, was made in The Purge. And the dialogue at times left me rolling my eyes, feeling a bit embarrassed for James DeMonaco and those involved.
And then The Purge: Anarchy arrived, and I wanted to give DeMonaco the benefit of the doubt, and see if he’d fixed any of the problems that hindered the first film. To my delight, DeMonaco had tightened his storytelling up quite a bit, broadened the scope of the story and successfully established a likeable and relatable hero in “Sergeant”, who would be labeled special agent Leo Barnes for the third film.
The Purge: Anarchy was, in my opinion, a much better film than its predecessor, and I can now tell you that The Purge: Election Year is quite a bit smarter, engaging and socially relevant than Anarchy. Yes, The Purge: Election Year is the best of the lot, at this point. And the lot, as a whole, is now beginning to feel rather special.
There was some strange flukish business at work in The Purge, because DeMonaco has done nothing but build something better and stronger with each picture that passes.
While the franchise has always come equipped with social commentary, The Purge: Election Year delves much deeper into sociopolitical commentary and the intentions that DeMonaco outlines in his third film feel far more sinister, and sadly, accurate (no, we’re not Purging, but we’re still defecating on the poor while we line those already well-lined pockets of the upper class) than anything we’ve seen from The Purge thus far.
The film drops us right into election season, and Senator Charlie Roan’s top priority for America’s future is to abolish the annual Purge. Meanwhile, her rival, Minister Edwidge Owens is determined to win the election and keep the Purge in place. His goal, along with a handful of other absurdly wealthy, greedy, racist, ignorant, vile creatures is to target the poverty stricken, and strike them from earth, thus saving quite the chunk of change designated for welfare and health care. All that money, quietly tucked into already engorged wallets.
The rich get richer, the poor get Purged.
Enter Leo Barnes, now a special agent and hand-picked head of security for Senator Roan. The government has suddenly lifted any restrictions that would ensure the senator’s safety, and, as you probably guessed, she becomes the number one target of Owens and those in power and favor of the Purge. Can Barnes keep the senator alive long enough to win back some degree of equality in America? Can we possibly see the Purge done away with, or has Barnes’ time as hero run out, and is Senator Roan’s fate as gruesome as it looks?
We’ll keep the spoilers at bay, but we’ll certainly heap the praise on the film. There are still some very, very wild ideas exercised, and they still require some major suspension of disbelief, but there’s a method to all of the madness this time around, and as outlandish as the script becomes from time to time, there aren’t many maneuvers made in the story that feel out of place or entirely inconceivable in this specific reality.
Barnes is as bad ass and brilliant as ever, even more dominating for this adventure, and Frank Grillo reminds us that despite being an average sized, handsome fellow, he’s an intimidating force of nature perfectly cast for the franchise. Elizabeth Mitchell does a great job as the woman looking to make things as right as rain, and Mykelti Williamson is terrific as Joe the small deli owner with his business on the line come Purge time. There are a few other standouts, including key villain Terry Serpico (who happens to be a dead ringer for Anthony Michael Hall) who handles the role of uber tough guy and professional assassin Earl Danzinger and Betty Gabriel, who’s absolutely exceptional as the sympathetic Laney Rucker. It’s a strong lineup, to say the least.
The theatrics are as grand as they’ve ever been, there are a few iconic shots and a couple of gnarly executions, but for the most part this feels like a personal story in a sprawling universe. Sure we’re basically restricted to a single metropolis, but the nature of the story, the continued pursuit that stretches the course of 105 minutes, feels quite grand. It’s an interesting mashup that works very well.
Just as much action as horror, The Purge: Election Year is brutal fun. It’s a thrill ride with serious intentions and everyone involved takes the material deadly serious. There’s no comedic relief here (well, there’s one or two moments in the picture’s early goings, but any idea of light-hearted angles is quickly disposed of). What we have is the smartest and the biggest Purge film yet. If you thought The Purge: Anarchy was a balls-to-the-wall shocker, get ready to see everything that Anarchy offered, amplified and wrapped up in a package that’ll leave fans of George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead far beyond satisfied.