The Purge: Election Year (2016)

James DeMonaco

Frank Grillo - Leo Barnes
Elizabeth Mitchell - Senator Charlie Roan
Mykelti Williamson - Joe Dixon
Joseph Julian Soria - Marcos Dali
Betty Gabriel - Laney Rucker
Terry Serpico - Earl Danzinger
Raymond J. Barry - Caleb Warrens
Edwin Hodge - Dante Bishop
Kyle Secor - Minister Edwidge Owens

Genre - Horror/Thriller/Action

Running Time - 109 Minutes

PLOT (from IMDB):
It’s been seventeen years since Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) stopped himself from a regrettable act of revenge on Purge Night. Now serving as head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), his mission is to protect her in a run for president and survive the annual ritual that targets the poor and innocent. But when a betrayal forces them onto the streets of D.C. on the one night when no help is available, they must stay alive until dawn… or both be sacrificed for their sins against the state.

Since THE FIRST PURGE is being released to theaters this week, with a Purge television show premiering in September, I figured I might as well give my thoughts on the third film in the franchise - 2016’s THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR. Even though I wanted to watch this film two years ago, the real political and social climate at the time turned me off to it. It’s bad enough being depressed and angry about real life. I didn’t need to watch a film about the same topics to infuriate me further. But I had heard decent things about the film and it remained on my radar since. Now having watched it for the first time, I have to say that THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR is not only smart, but it’s probably more relevant today than it was two years ago. I’m not saying that ELECTION YEAR is must see if you’re not a fan of this franchise, but it might be one of the more important horror films in the last decade if you’re willing to take a chance on it.

THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR is more of a continuation of THE PURGE: ANARCHY from 2014 than it is a follow-up to the original 2013 film. ELECTION YEAR has a similar tone, look, feel, and even a social awareness that ANARCHY really brought forth. As a fan of ANARCHY, I definitely liked ELECTION YEAR. While I do enjoy brainless, popcorn flicks that are just meant for audiences to have fun, I dig a film that provokes thinking through its social commentary. 
Obviously from the title, you can rightfully guess what ELECTION YEAR’s message is. The Purge event has caused a civil war in America, where the poor believe the rich are using the event to eliminate the lower class in order to save money on welfare, health care, social security, and other institutions the government must cover for its citizens. This commentary has pretty much been there since the start of the series, but really hits close to home in modern times due to our political and social landscape. I’m not here to share my political or religious beliefs, but it’s pretty safe to say that the world isn’t in the best shape societal wise these days. That makes ELECTION YEAR eerie, as it captures life in America pretty well.

I will say that the commentary is obviously one-sided, as the upper-class [or the New Founding Fathers of America] are clearly evil people who are so wrapped up in their sin that they refuse to let any sort of uprise and revolution stop them from using the Purge as a means to eliminate those they feel are useless to society [a.k.a. the lower class]. And they want to eliminate Senator Charlie Roan before she possibly wins the Presidency because she wants to get rid of the Purge for good - as she was a survivor of a previous Purge that murdered her family. But the commentary becomes a bit muddled, as the supposed victims of the Purge also tend not to be the greatest of people. Some of them feel justified in their actions, while others are just insane. It makes you question which side of the argument is right here, which I’m not sure is the point of the film or not. Judging by how it all ends, maybe it is. But I feel there should have been more of a balance in terms of good and evil. Maybe some of the upper class are against the Purge, disagreeing with the NFFA. But we never really meet those people, so ELECTION YEAR makes it seem that every single member of the rich are evil while only some of everyone else do have ethics and morals. Then again, don’t a lot of us think that? Maybe writer/director James DeMonaco was smart to play with our fears.

There’s also a subtle commentary on guns. Leo Barnes, our returning protagonist from ANARCHY who is now Senator Roan’s bodyguard, only uses a handgun and one of those heart attack knives you hide between your fingers. He never picks up a semi-automatic gun and only uses an explosive when necessary. The other characters have no issue using semi-automatics to take down their targets. With the gun culture as it is today, it seems DeMonaco is not denouncing the right to bear arms, but going against people using rifles or machine guns in every day life unless you’re part of the military. Barnes is capable of defending himself without using excessive weapons. And Barnes only uses them for self-defense, not to purposely injure or kill others. There’s something to that message, especially in today’s world.

I think the best part about the commentary is that it’s never really preachy. Sure, the messages aren’t subtle in any way. The movie is about class issues, racism, political strife, gun control, and so on. But it uses all that to craft a pretty strong story, never making ELECTION YEAR an uncomfortable sit through. Some people won’t watch this because they want to escape from these kind of issues, and that’s perfectly okay. But DeMonaco wants to make a film that is somewhat based on reality - something we can relate to. And I think that’s why this franchise has continued to survive.

As for the characters, I think they’re on-par, maybe even better structured, than the ones in ANARCHY. Leo Barnes returns, remaining the badass he was in the previous film. But he evolves in ELECTION YEAR, seeing different points of views when it comes to their scenario and seriously taking them all in. He still kicks ass when he needs to, but he puts a bit more thought into his actions now because of the people he encounters along the way. Senator Roan is also pretty well written, as she’s the ideal politician who believes in ethics and morals and wants to change America for the good. She doesn’t want to win her elections through murder, or scandal. She wants to go through the Purge to prove to the public that she means what she says. As a victim of the Purge itself previously, she also comes across as tough as nails - giving Leo a run for his money in terms of who’s in charge. Joe Dixon is a regular store-owner who wants to prove his only livelihood [even though the NFFA has cut off his insurance during The Purge], but ends up protecting Leo and Roan when they need his help. He’s more light-hearted and more accustomed to the street world than Leo is, giving them a nice conflict through most of the film. Lane Rucker risks going out during The Purge to save people who are injured during the night, which shows her strong and soulful character. Dante Bishop is a leader for those opposing the Purge. He plans on using the day to take out Roan’s rival so she can secure the Presidential seat. We also have the NFFA, who use religion as a way to justify their evil actions by murdering lower-class people while targeting Roan. They even hire white supremacists as their military to take out their rivals. So many different characters, but they all have their place in this film - giving us a glimpse of a multi-colored world that’s struggling with The Purge in different ways. I thought have the politicians and the citizens come together in a convincing way was a nice touch.

I also have to say that I was never more terrified by teenage girls than I was in ELECTION YEAR. Driving in cars covered in Christmas lights while blasting Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” just to steal from Joe Dixon’s store was pretty bizarre. The leader of the group was pretty annoying to be honest [like I said, the film isn’t perfect], but I thought it was a good way to show how the Purge has devolved society since the first film. And I also wished there was more to that “Purge Tourists” deal, where people outside of America would visit just to murder people for that 12 hour period. I think it’s an interesting concept that could have been explored more. Maybe in another film.

James DeMonaco pretty much continues what he did in ANARCHY. He’s created an open-box world where you’re never really sure who is on the up-and-up and who just enjoys killing people on a night where it’s legal. The film has great visuals at times, maintaining a gritty and bleak atmosphere that fits the social commentary. The action is shot pretty well, with DeMonaco never shying away from the violence of the night. Guns are fired. People are stabbed. Some are blown up. Others are beaten to death. We have people tied to hoods of cars and driven around like ornaments. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. I think if you liked the direction of ANARCHY, you’ll like the direction of ELECTION YEAR.

The acting in ELECTION YEAR is pretty damn good. Frank Grillo is just awesome as Leo Barnes. Like I mentioned in my ANARCHY review, he is the best thing about the PURGE franchise. He’s a great protagonist who is always pro-active and has a good heart, even if he takes himself more seriously than he should. Grillo is absolutely convincing as a pure badass who knows how to defend himself without batting an eye. I like his screen presence a lot. Elizabeth Mitchell, best known for her work on the television show Lost, is also very good as Senator Roan. She’s tough, smart, genuine, and can also convey vulnerability while trying to be a good leader. Mykelti Williamson is a joy to watch as Joe Dixon, bringing some light-hearted and fun to the film. He’s a scene stealer for sure, getting the best dialogue and making him the most likable new character. Joseph Julian Soria is good as Joe’s co-worker, Marcos. He’s tough and loyal. Soria portrays Marcos as a man who doesn’t want the American Dream destroyed by the Purge very convincingly. Betty Gabriel is badass as Laney, while Terry Serpico is great as the cold white supremacist, Earl. Also, mention to Kyle Secor as the delusional and evil Minister Owens. And honorable mention to Harmon James in his bit part as some sort of religious psycho in the final act. He’s so weird looking and acting, that I kept wondering what his deal was. There’s something up with this dude - so much so that I wouldn’t mind him in another film. Of all the crazy characters, he was probably the creepiest by far.

I enjoyed THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR more than I thought I would. While not perfect due to muddled social commentary at times, some annoying side-characters, and sub-plots that could have been explored more - the film is still the best of the first three films due to strong action, confident direction, and nicely developed characters we can easily love and/or easily hate. It’s scary to think how this film resonates more in 2018 than it did two years ago. If you want to escape from reality, ELECTION YEAR is probably a film you may want to skip over. But if you love this franchise and don’t mind watching a film that can hit pretty close to home, ELECTION YEAR probably won’t disappoint.

3 Howls Outta 4

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