Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Bloody Violence and Strong Language
Directed by: James DeMonaco
Written by: James DeMonaco
Starring: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Terry Serpico & Edwin Hodge
Unlike almost every other horror franchise on the planet, THE PURGE series seems to improve with every new installment. 2013’s PURGE was a disappointingly generic home-invasion thriller that happened to use a really cool idea simply as an excuse for why no help was available. Critics and audiences promptly called that dull flick out for wasting its premise. PURGE: ANARCHY was a decent sequel that delivered far more on the chaos-filled premise by taking the action out into the fiery streets, but still fell victim to dumb decisions and bland characters. Ladies and gentlemen, THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR has finally done the impossible. This is not only the best PURGE yet, but also manages to be a wholly entertaining combination of action and horror. ELECTION YEAR is a bloody blast from start to finish. It’s not without clichés and silly moments, but this is adrenaline-pumping, fast-paced, and gore-soaked entertainment that I will be rewatching many times in the future.
In the distant future, an annual Purge where all crime (including murder) is legal for twelve hours has been credited for boosting the economy and making America great again. However, there are those who disagree. These include lower-class citizens (who are usually being ritually killed off by upper-class psychopaths), an anti-Purge rebellion movement, and a popular outspoken politician. Senator Charlene Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) plans to end the Purge if she’s elected to office. Roan’s revolutionary stance is gaining steam, because she’s only a few points behind her Purge-loving political competition. This prompts the sociopathic, wealthy New Founding Fathers to change the Purge rules around altogether.
This year, nobody is exempt from the Purge, which means that politicians and high-ranking officials can now legally be slaughtered by anyone who pleases to do so. When a violent assassination attempt is made on Senator Roan’s life, head of security Leo Barnes (a returning Frank Grillo) finds his work cut out for him in keeping this presidential hopeful alive on the blood-soaked streets of Purge night. Meanwhile, deli owner Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson) takes armed measures to protect his store (as he’s just lost his Purge insurance) and reformed gangster turned EMT Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel) takes to the streets to save as many people as she can.
ELECTION YEAR immediately sets itself up as a cut above the other two PURGE installments by kicking off the story a couple of days before the Purge. The script gives itself room to build these characters up before getting into the frenzy-filled 12 hours. These protagonists and antagonists may not be the most original individuals in film, but they’re given actual development and purpose. The film opens with a disturbing flashback that shows why Senator Roan is against the Purge (as if it weren’t obvious from a moral standpoint). Leo Barnes’s story arc was the main focus of ANARCHY, but there’s also brief catch-up exposition for viewers who’ve completely forgotten about it. The plight of the deli owner Dixon and his friends is also interesting to watch, as the film connects these multiple plot threads into one action-filled storyline. There are also a number of recurring enemies too, one of whom (Minister Owens, played in laughably over-the-top fashion by Kyle Sector) distinctly reminded me of Ted Cruz.
Besides maintaining a sense of cheesy entertainment, ELECTION YEAR thrives on memorable set pieces. Some are darkly comical (it’s hard not to laugh at a machete-wielding giant pig costume), others are disturbing (rebellious teenagers set up fatal booby traps on the streets), and many revolve around bullets and bloody carnage. The film never becomes too bleak or takes itself too seriously though. There’s blatantly obvious political and social commentary thrown into the gory mix, but these are mostly regulated to the backseat in favor of a fun storyline and cool moments. Besides having more than its fair share of great set pieces, ELECTION YEAR also capitalizes on exploring smaller interesting details about Purge night, including international travelers indulging in murder tourism and smaller scenes around the city.
As far as the action and chaos goes, the film occasionally gets into a bit of shaky camera work and fast editing, but never reaches a point where you can’t make out what’s going on. There’s a great one-on-one confrontation that seems ripped straight out of an action flick and stands out as one of the film’s best moments. With all my praise over this movie, it’s also important to mention that ELECTION YEAR is still not without noticeable faults. One of the biggest problems is the silly dialogue, which feels downright sloppy at points and also adds to the sense that ELECTION YEAR started off as an 80’s action throwback before becoming the third PURGE film.
To be honest, most of the acting isn’t great either. Frank Grillo is definitely the series highlight as recurring gun-toting hero Leo Barnes, but Elizabeth Mitchell is hit-or-miss as Senator Roan. As the deli crew, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria and Betty Gabriel feel like urban stereotypes that have been given slightly more development. There are also a couple of psychos who come off as a bit too over-the-top, while Terry Serpico is great as a white supremacist armed to the teeth with weaponry. To be fair though, THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR is not necessarily a film you watch for the performances. One usually watches these kinds of movies with hopes for scares, violence and fun. This sequel easily delivers in all three of those areas, while faltering in the dialogue and acting.
Though it’s not necessarily a great film, THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR is the first legitimately good entry of the PURGE series. This is the opposite of what happens with most horror franchises. Instead, the PURGE series creator/writer seems to be listening to complaints from the viewers and then doing his damndest to remedy them with each passing installment. Though this might be the last PURGE film we get (closing it off as an interesting, oddball horror trilogy), ELECTION YEAR is a lot of fun. This is like a gory horror flick and a cheesy 80’s actioner had a baby together. If you’re into either of those things, then by all means, THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR is probably up your alley!