Title: The Purge: Election Year
Release Date: July 1st, 2016
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: James DeMonaco
Release Format: Theatrical
Somehow, the timing of The Purge: Election Year is both horrific and perfect. With the recent tragedy in Orlando along with other recent instances of gun violence, some may see this film as dancing on the graves of the victims. Getting any sort of enjoyment out of a film that relishes in such things may seem like a sick joke. However, there has always been a strong satirical element to these films. Make no mistake, these are first and foremost cheap thrill outings. However, they also put a mirror up to America’s fetish for violence while also delivering a spectacular showcase for it.
The story picks up a couple of years after The Purge: Anarchy. Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) has dropped the Punisher act in favor of being the head of security. His mark: Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a childhood victim of her father’s horrific purge violence. Hell-bent on eliminating the holiday all together in her presidential bid, Roan finds herself in danger on purge night. The new founding fathers have sent a task force to eliminate her before the sun comes up. Leo takes it upon himself to protect her, having been betrayed by the rest of his unit. They later meet up with deli owner Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson) and his friends, who are protecting their beloved workplace.
Writer/Director James DeMonaco has developed a strong command for this insane world over the course of these films. In The Purge: Election Year he does perhaps his strongest work behind the camera yet. The first film was a straight up horror film, the purgers essentially being scary masked people in a spook-house. Anarchy was a pure action film, where they really were little more than targets for Grillo to shoot. Here, the styles are more elegantly blended together, making for a complete realization of this horrific holiday. There’s some fantastic world building centering on Purge culture here. We get a sense that these people are true psychopaths who are enjoying every minute of inhumanity they can get. It’s a terrifying concept, that keeps the film intense even when it’s standard jump scares fall a bit flat.
The more blockbuster esque action elements have been refined as well. Not only are the shootouts and chases shot very well, but they have a strong sense of consequence and brutality. We see both innocent and guilty people ripped to shreds here. DeMonaco has a bloodthirsty eye, and the glee he takes in his violence both furthers his point and entertains. It certainly helps that his cast makes for a group of likable heroes. Grillo continues to prove that he’s an action superstar waiting to happen, his intense presence anchoring the proceedings.
However, the pleasant surprise of The Purge: Election Year is how strong the supporting players are, considering that Anarchy’s left something to be desired. Mykelti Williamson in particular really stands out here. While he’s given some horribly stereotypical dialogue to read, he delivers it earnestly enough to spin it into something completely lovable. There’s a clear sense that Joe really cares for his friends, also well played by Joseph Soria and Betty Gabriel. The only weak link is Elizabeth Mitchell as the senator on the hot seat. For somebody who is supposed to be a revolutionary, her delivery is very stiff. We never get a real sense of passion on her end. We root for her because the script tells us how important she is, not because she’s a great leader.
While these elements make for an above average midnight movie, The Purge: Election Year falls critically short in one area. The political commentary. For a movie that so intelligently plays with its audience’s reaction to violence, it’s worldview is awfully short sighted. After all, why muddle the issue of why this holiday exists with something complex when you can just make the villains a bunch of mean old white guys, right? There’s never an attempt to make any shades of gray here. The Purge isn’t the result of something well-intentioned done wrong, but simply a sick bid to eliminate minorities. However, the finger rarely gets pointed at the people purging, who range across all ethnicities and social classes. Simplifying the issue certainly makes for a more digestible film. However, it will ultimately only fuel negativity by being unwilling to examine the issue from all sides.
The Purge: Election Year is absolutely one of the most entertaining blockbusters of the summer so far. It’s intense, well acted, and unapologetically brutal. DeMonaco has come a long way from the generic home invasion film that he began with. In fact, I am very curious to see where he takes this story from here. However, it is hard to anticipate anything truly insightful with such a shortsighted worldview. Although this series seems very self-aware about the antagonistic world it lives in, it ultimately makes itself a product of that ill will. Perhaps it’s time to give the reigns over to another director, who could potentially explore this holiday with more complexity. That said, this is quite the fourth of July fireworks display. If you can stomach it, you just might have as much fun as the purgers.
Characters: Unlike previous films in the series, every character in The Purge: Election Year serves a purpose. Some are more complex than others, but one of them just feel like cannon fodder. Very impressive for a movie like this.
Cinematography: A mix between gritty, news camera looking camerawork and operatic, slow motion fetishism of violence. All of the action is filmed very clearly, as the movie relies more on suspense than stuntwork. The insane world is captured near perfectly.
Story: While the film does indulge in oversimplifying its political agenda, the plot works well. It’s a bit of a retread of Anarchy’s structure, but it is better crafted this time around.
Acting: With the exception of Elizabeth Mitchell, everybody delivers solid performances here. Grillo again makes for a fantastic action star, while Williamson and company provide plenty of humanity.
- Brutal, well-realized world
- Fantastic, violent action
- Grillo and Williamson
- Effective Scares
- Mitchell's bland presidential candidate.
- Oversimplified Political Views
Michael Fairbanks is a lifelong film lover from San Diego, California. His favorite movies include The Dark Knight, Silver Linings Playbook, and As Good As It Gets. In addition to The Nerd Stash, Fairbanks writes for both The Young Folks, and his own blog, entitled Fairbanks on Film.