Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Purge: Election Year (2016) Review

Directed by
James DeMonaco

This is the commencement of the annual Purge…review. James DeMonaco’s low budget horror franchise is potentially the most unique and indispensible franchise in the industry right now. If you are not familiar with the films, it is about a not-too-distant future America where once a year there is a 12 hour period where all crime, including murder, is legal. The ideas have all come directly from the mind of DeMonaco, a director whose only previous credit was a comedy mob movie called Staten Island. While I am not completely satisfied with these movies, I still hotly anticipate the release of each of them because the depth and storytelling are more intriguing than anything else released in the summer in the US.

Election Year takes place a couple years after Anarchy, the second film in the franchise which followed Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), a former policeman looking for revenge on the men who killed his son during a Purge. Barnes is now a government agent tasked with protecting Presidential candidate Charlene Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), whose entire family was tortured and murdered decades before in a Purge, leaving only Charlene to survive. She has been winning over voters with her down-to-earth persona and anti-Purge campaign. On the other hand, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) are fighting tooth-and-nail to keep the office in the hands of their party to continue the Purge and all of the financial benefits it brings. With the annual Purge coming up right in the middle of the campaign trail, this creates an obvious chance for supporters of both groups to take matters into their own hands, especially since the NFFA decided that this year no person will be safe, no matter what his or her government clearance is. What this develops into is a sort of sadistic action movie in which both candidates are targeted by guerrilla groups in order to take out the competition and help their party. These groups include the underground assassination anti-Purge team established in Anarchy and a group of Neo-Nazi militia hired by the NFFA. The setup is dreamlike, and for the most part, it works.

One of the chief differences between this film and the previous Purge movies is the tone. The original is a classic low-budget slasher/home invasion movie, which does not really deviate all that much from predecessors in that genre, but it was used mainly as a way to establish this universe with its public service announcement trailers seeing what is potentially possible if a Purge were to be legalized. The second movie was more of a traditional action movie out in the streets, and that only gave a glimpse of what this actually looks like to people who are not blessed with high-end home security and how terrifying some people are when they are truly free for a period of time. Election Year has an almost comedic vibe to it. I mean, the movie is totally wild and violent, with scenes involving torture, ritualistic killings, and absolutely psychotic ideas. However, with how much more bizarre the filmmakers made the setup, it would have just been way too dark if they didn’t throw in the one-liners from Mykelti Williamson (Bubba from Forrest Gump), who plays an anti-Purge deli owner, and the overall looniness of Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor), who is a minister and the NFFA candidate for President. He becomes a sort of Jordan Chase type character (Take It!), relating to the primal instincts of humans and their need to purge out their demons. So, basically this movie is a little too crazy for it to have just been a horror movie. It comes off in a 10 Cloverfield Lane type of way in which the intensity is not lost with the comedy, but a bit of its edge is, especially for a franchise which had established an unrelenting style thus far.
Something that frustrated me that didn’t necessarily have to do with the quality of the movie was how the Michael Kenneth Williams character did not return as the leader of anti-Purge group. They essentially recast his role, but he has a different name and it just wasn’t the same without Omar leading the way. He would have made that part endlessly more badass and more likable. Another thing that was a little off about the movie was its lack of subtlety in its social commentary. The previous ones had definite parallels to our current world, but this one takes it a bit too far. The subtlety of the first couple is what made them really interesting, but in Election Year, the Neo-Nazi leader of the assassination team tasked with killing Senator Roan has a very distinguishable set of eyebrows that can only be described as Trump-like, the NFFA has mid-Purge street-sweeping with a disembodied voice saying something to the effect of “Make America clean again.”, and there are public service announcements stating “I purge to keep my country great.” I understand satire, but this is borderline propaganda. The message is incredibly self-serving, but somehow that still doesn’t really take away from the joy and thrill of watching the film. The cinematography is beautiful, and there are a fair amount of surprises and original action sequences. The film was sort of desperate to keep getting unarmed main characters out on the streets and have lesser characters coming back into the fold by the film’s end, but there is only so much DeMonaco can do to get his point across and keep making these under $10 million slashers seem fresh. All of those characters are relatively well cast and memorable.

So, should you see this movie? It depends. If you are a fan of Anarchy, then this is absolutely worth checking out. I can actually see this movie standing alone without needing to be familiar with the first two. The films do a fairly decent job at bringing the audience up to speed in the beginning, and almost all of the characters in Election Year are new to the franchise. The movie is not nearly as squirmy as the original Purge and not as polished as Anarchy, but it does appeal to the inner violence of the audience and keeps it relatively tame with its biting humor and one-liners. It is pretty wild and will still shock a lot of audiences, but I cannot help but feel a little let down by the finished product. If they do decide to make another one, and the final scene definitely leaves that door open, then I will still be first in line, as long as DeMonaco is still at the helm.

Rating: 2.5 stars

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