Review: The Purge: Election Year

by - 15:22

In case you didn’t pick up on the clues in the previous two movies, the Purge series aims to score sociopolitical-satire points while unloading gore and violence at the viewer on full auto.

After all, while “purge” could apply to the act of pouring out all of one’s pent-up negativity and emotions, it could also apply to getting rid of “unwanted” elements from society on that one special night each year when all crime is legal for 12 hours.

The first film hinted at this insidious undertone and the second film quite conclusively showed it, with those big trucks going around disgorging paramilitary kill squads to slaughter unfortunate folks in less well-appointed neighbourhoods.

Well, this third movie takes us even further, to the supposed inner workings of the “New Founding Fathers of America” (NFFA) who have ruled that country for more than two decades and conducted the annual Purge ever since they came to power.

The movie also arrives in an election year (oh gee, what a coincidence!) for the United States, and with all that talk of building walls and expelling certain communities made by real-life president-wannabes, The Purge: Election Year seems strangely more appropriate for the times than, say, a new season of House Of Cards.

It’s not likely to win the kind of awards that Netflix series would bag, of course. But heck, you have to give writer-director James DeMonaco props for trying to provoke some thought amid all that bloodletting.

Not with teeth like that, we won't. Photo: UIP

Not with teeth like that, we won’t. Photo: UIP

This is the most political of all the three movies, and perhaps the least subtle about it. The political elements get laid on pretty thick, but there’s plenty of good old Purging going on to distract from those times when it gets too plodding.

Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), the revenge-driven father from the previous film, is now head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a Purge survivor determined to put a stop to the killing if she is elected President.

Opposing her is Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor), a bizarre amalgam of politician and spiritual leader … well, what passes for spirituality in this disturbing reflection of society, anyway.

With Owens firmly backed by the NFFA, guess which of the two becomes a candidate for ending up dead on Purge Night, then.

There are subplots, mainly involving a deli owner (Mykelti Williamson) looking to protect his suddenly uninsured property on Purge Night, and a conspiracy of another kind headed by Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge, who has been in all three movies).

Through the progression of the series, DeMonaco has done a decent job of certain things (the social allegory), has become better at other things (the action sequences), and has always been rather good at one thing (unsettling imagery of people Purging).

It’s that last thing that stands out the most, from throwaway shots of shrouded figures dancing around (and occasionally stabbing) their hanged victims to a freakish killer babydoll gang to garishly-garbed “murder tourists” from abroad who have come to “feel what it’s like to be American” by taking part in the Purge.

Expect plenty of jump scares and some suspenseful runs through streets that seem lifted right out of a John Carpenter film to heighten the tension.

After all, while it may have lofty ambitions, this is still a dystopian horror-thriller at heart; and all those appalling crimes against humanity, plus the various comeuppances served upon the arrogant and entitled, remain the series’ biggest draw factor.

Which brings me to the final point of this review. I caught this at a premiere screening and the audience groaned loudly whenever bits of dialogue and some of the OTT violence were removed. Note to the people doing the removing: moviegoers DO notice.

While it doesn’t render the film unwatchable, it does make the experience … annoying. Especially when the one big comeuppance scene, which you could say the whole series has been building up to, gets removed. Bah. It’s enough to make a largely non-violent moviegoer wanna Purge.

The Purge: Election Year

Director: James DeMonaco

Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Edwin Hodge, Raymond J. Barry, Terry Serpico, Betty Gabriel, Joseph Julian Soria, Kyle Secor, Ethan Philips

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