by: S. Scott Stanikmas – Senior Staff Writer
After taking a year off (possibly to time it with the upcoming U.S. Presidential race), writer / director James DeMonaco once again takes us on a tour of a terrifying future in which the United States has chosen one night a year where all crime, including murder, is legal with The Purge: Election Year. And while the latest installment of the Purge series has a bunch of good moments it never seems to cohere into a compelling narrative, trying to tell a story that seems too big for just one film to cover.
Back in the early days of the Purge, Charlene “Charlie” Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) was the sole survivor of a maniac looking to release his beast. Now almost two decades later Roan is a U.S. Senator with Presidential hopes and a dream of eliminating the awful annual tradition that stole her family from her.
Her head of security Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) knows the evils of the Purge all too well. After almost killing the man who killed his son, Barnes now watches the back of Roan while she takes on the New Founding Fathers of America.
And the NFFA are scared, as Roan is gaining in the polls and almost even with their pro-Purge candidate. Looking to legally take out the competition all the rules are tossed out the window. Everyone (including previously exempt government officials) is now fair game with a target on their back…or front or forehead, etc, etc.
Meanwhile Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson) is a small business owner whose Purge insurance gets raised the day before the most dangerous night of the year. Looking to protect what’s his, Joe sets himself up on the roof of his deli with his employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), a young man that believes in what Senator Roan is doing.
Predictably these two sets of people intersect and soon have to depend on each other (and the works of good samaritans) if they hope to survive until sun up.
While it’s a lofty goal to tell a story about the politics of the Purge (and it was hinted at during the second film The Purge: Anarchy), a film like this seems to really put a cap on the franchise when it’s still in infancy. The idea of an anti-Purge Senator could have been worked out over a few films while still telling some truly outrageous stories. Because if we’re looking to be honest, the target audience for these films aren’t the most politically minded. They want action and violence and lots of gory deaths (which is what kept the Saw franchise turning no matter how ridiculous the overarching story got).
Instead we get a film where nearly all the cool kills and most of the surprise scares have been spoiled by the tell-all trailers and TV spots.
Grillo and Williamson steal the show, for their kick-ass kills and comedic timing respectively. Frank Grillo shows once again why he would have made the perfect Punisher for Marvel Studios, whether it’s removing a bullet from his own shoulder or showing how he thinks ten steps ahead of everyone else for his (and the Senator’s) survival. And Mykelti Williamson brings the perfect amount of levity to a “horror” film like this, which is much needed to make the scares that much more scarier.
IndieRevolver EIC Jay Carlson commented on social media that a film like this is akin to a zombie movie. To paraphrase what he said it boils down to this: I don’t care how it happens to get us to that point, just put me in the middle of the action and let me watch the carnage unfold. Unfortunately this Purge film didn’t really do that, instead looking to focus on keeping one woman safe and leaving the real action just a head swivel in the wrong direction.
While it had some really good performances and a couple of good surprises that weren’t spoiled in the marketing campaign, The Purge: Election Year falls short of the superior second film The Purge: Anarchy. I’d still cast my vote for this horror film over a lot of other fare that’s been offered to us this year so far.