Verdict: A treat, I’m sure, for the most hard-lined political conspiracy theorists, “The Purge: Election Year” doesn’t offer much past its thoughts about the conservative right.
“The Purge” franchise has always been political. Just watch the trailers of the first two; even those who haven’t seen them can understand the subtext, what with all the red, white, and blue and “America The Beautiful” playing in the background.
Yes, “The Purge” is all heavy handed political commentary, but “Election Year” takes it to an extreme. It’s more politics than gruesome murders or thrill. Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan.
Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is a senator running for president on an anti-Purge platform, a champion of the poor and minority communities that are disproportionately harmed during the yearly violence. The current big bosses, the New Founding Fathers of America, have a candidate set up to maintain the status quo, but purge hate has her threateningly close to winning.
When the purge rolls around, the New Founding Fathers uses the day to get her out of the picture, and hunt her and her bodyguard (Frank Grillo). In the process they team up with black store owner Joe, EMT Laney, and his employee Marcos, a newly-minted American citizen who’s a great shot because in Mexico “every night is like purge night.”
The “Purge”-verse presents class warfare as literal bloody battle, richy-rich conservatives standing out of harm’s way while the poor are left defenseless. The first movie isn’t as articulate about it, the main characters being rich white people in the suburbs, but “Anarchy” takes to the streets and really pushes the Evil Rich Folks thing with some Hunger Games-style ridiculousness. “Election Year,” though, is the true torchbearer of writer/director James DeMonaco’s political ideas.
This movie is the stuff of every hard-left Bernie bro’s wet dreams: a popular Berniecrat-type politician targeted by the establishment, white assassins wearing swastikas, WASP conservative high-ups instituting government sponsored murder to protect their money and power, a guy dressed as Uncle Sam wreaking havoc in the streets as good hearted poor people suffer.
And listen, that’s all good. In this election year, strife flows a-plenty and there’s no reason movies shouldn’t convey the ideas of their makers. My problem isn’t with the politics, but with the overabundance of politics. Heavy-handedness aside (DeMonaco has wrongly compared his work to “smuggler’s cinema”, clearly not getting that to “smuggle” implies subtlety) “Election Year” puts more emphasis on its ideology than the fun murder stuff. Cuz, like, I came here for purging, and I got a pretty skimpy helping of scares.
There’s a handful of good jumps and slaughters, but overall nothing gripping. The cleverest it gets is a grandma next to a burning corpse and a couple of spoiled teens with bedazzled machine guns. Not very original. Meanwhile the second one has this guy in an 18 wheeler with a machine gun! I wanted more of that! Frank Grillo shooting a drone really doesn’t compare.
What’s especially weird is that I want to be able to say “Oh, the movie is obviously anti-violence so it’s keeping violent imagery to a minimum. No hypocrisy here.” But that’s not even it! “Election Year” glorifies its violence, delights in it with beauty shots, wants the audience to share in the revelry (despite DeMonaco saying the “Purge”-verse doesn’t glorify violence… ha.)
No, “Election Year” just doesn’t understand how to convey its point and doesn’t make up for it with any amount of fun.
That said, it does do some things right. It’s definitely the prettiest of the “Purge” movies, seems to have benefitted the most from the series’s box office success. And it loooovvvessssss brown faces. It gives a lot of screen time to its black and Mexican characters, and doesn’t divide good and evil between black and white; there are good and bad people of every color, though admittedly it’s not an even distribution. None of these people get to be well-written characters, they’re all one note archetypes, but hey, they’re easy carriers of the story. We can still give DeMonaco representative screen time credit.
And, most important of all, my audience loved it. All the “Purge” fans who packed in with me opening weekend shrieked and laughed and left thoroughly satisfied.
So should you see “The Purge: Election Year”? If you liked the first two, yes, definitely, this will fulfill that “Purge” part of you. But if you’re not already a fan and want something smart and thrill-packed, save your money. You’ll get as much out of the r/Political_Revolution subreddit.