By Michael Kaye
The Purge: Election Year (Review)
One of my favorite things about horror is just how easily it can blend with any other genre. Usually the default second genre is comedy, but every once in a while we get a bone-crunching horror action thriller, inspired by 80's cult classics such as They Live and Escape From New York. Writer and director James DeMonaco seems to be following in the footsteps of John Carpenter with his Purge franchise, and today we're looking at the third installment, The Purge: Election Year.
Here's the story. Two years after choosing not to kill the man who killed his son, former police sergeant Leo Barnes has become head of security for Senator Charlene Roan, the front runner in the next Presidential election due to her vow to eliminate the Purge. On the night of what should be the final Purge, a betrayal from within the government forces Barnes and Roan out onto the street where they must fight to survive the night.
The first Purge movie was a total waste of a good premise. All crime is legal for 12 hours, and yet the movie falls back on just being another home invasion slasher? Lame! Fortunately, we got a soft reboot with The Purge: Anarchy, that actually explores what it's like to be outside on the night of the Purge, and it was awesome! This movie is even better, doubling down on the politics and raising the stakes with the action. Here are my positives and negatives.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, the cast is pretty great. Frank Grillo is the only returning actor from the previous film, reprising his role as Leo Barnes, who is basically this universe's Punisher. This guy was born was born to be an action hero, but less in the Arnold Schwarzenegger fashion and more like a grittier Liam Neeson. Elizabeth Mitchell does a great job as Senator Charlie Roan, who wants to finally put an end to the Purge, if elected President of the United States. I'm really glad they didn't try to make her a damsel in distress, and there were scenes where she actually got to kick some ass. The other new characters that I liked were Mykelti Williamson as Joe Dixon, Joseph Julian Soria as Marcos and Betty Gabriel as Laney Rucker. Something that the Purge sequels have been doing better than the original for sure is diversifying the cast, which makes sense given the political and social commentary.
Speaking of which, let's talk about how subtly great the writing has been not just for this movie, but for Anarchy as well. My biggest issue with the first movie was the squandered potential of a great premise, so the sequel fixed that by taking the action to the streets, even throwing in a subplot involving an anti-NFFA movement and their crusade against the Purge. This time that subplot becomes the main plot, in a sort of meta fashion. I don't care how successful this movie turns out to be, the franchise cannot go beyond this point, which I hope was DeMonaco's intention. There's a real sense of closure by not only having the goal of the movie to ending the Purge, but by eliminating the immunity of government officials, thus raising the stakes for the action.
The action was the main reason why I was excited for this movie. Ignoring the first movie, James DeMonaco has proven that, while he probably will never be at the level of John Carpenter, he at least comes close. Usually whenever critics say that a movie feels like a video game, they say it with a very condescending tone, but here I think it's a compliment. There's a great deal of strategy involved with this action, as most of it's defensive while the primary goal is to survive. Grillo usually had the best action scenes, since his character was a former police sergeant and thus has the most fighting experience.
Finally, the music composed by Nathan Whitehead was awesome! I'm a big heavy metal fan, and it's a genre that goes well with horror like peanut butter and jelly. It's loud, intense, and very chaotic, which is exactly how I imagine the streets feel on the night of The Purge.
There aren't a lot of major negatives that I have, just a few observations.
First off, when I compliment the writing in these films, I'm strictly speaking relative to the genre. This movie would be dogshit compared to other films that have done political satire better, such as Snowpiercer. And while these films are an improvement over the original, it's still just window dressing as an excuse for some brutally awesome action scenes.
Finally, the one thing all three of these films have in common is the overwhelmingly large amount of ham in the acting. I'm not talking about the main characters, as they were pretty grounded for the most part. No, I'm talking the "villains," the ones out on the streets purging. There's one in particular that everyone has already made fun of, and that someone I have nicknamed "Candy Bar Girl." On the one hand, I do commend the movie for going out of its way to show that murder isn't the only crime people are willing to commit on Purge night. However, they took something as simple as shoplifting and went overboard. So be careful what you wish for, those of you who complain about the internal logic of this film franchise, because this just happened.
The Purge: Election Year is an entertaining action horror thriller that knows exactly what it wants to be. It might overreach in some areas, but for the most part it's got great action, great performances from the main ensemble cast, and a badass musical score. I hope everyone is enjoying their 4th of July, I sure did after seeing this movie!
Now I wanna hear from you guys! Have you seen The Purge: Election Year, and if so what did you think? Also, what are your favorite action horror films? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review, where I play a little bit of catch-up on new releases with Eye in the Sky!