The Purge: Election Year is a film that’s more intriguing as a product of its time than as a work of cinema.
Setting its usual flurry of vigilantism against the backdrop of a Presidential election is an inspired choice – especially one as incendiary as this – but, other than which, it’s just business as usual for the franchise.
Running on a platform to abolish the Purge – an annual twelve-hour orgy of violence in which all crime is legal across the US – Senator Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell, LOST) is targeted for death by the New Founding Fathers, a sinister cabal of privileged, mostly white old guys, who feels that she threatens the status quo. Betrayed by her own people and driven from her home, all she has to do is survive the night. Even with the help of her head of security Leo Barnes (a returning Frank Grillo, The Purge: Anarchy), this is easier said than done when the streets of Washington are patrolled by gangs of luridly dressed, heavily armed psychos.
Written and directed once again by franchise helmer James DeMonaco, Election Year seeks to address serious issues in American society, like that of race and class. For instance, small business owner Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson, Forrest Gump) risks his life to defend his store from looters – specifically a pair of skanky schoolgirls with a lust for blood. It would be more compelling, though, if Joe himself weren’t such a stereotype; a hard-working, plain-spoken, salty sort given to pronouncements on fried chicken and female genitalia. His companions are a hyper-loyal Mexican immigrant, Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and legendary former gangster turned Purge Night EMT, Laney (Becky Gabriel).
Admittedly, the opposition aren’t exactly presented subtly: Roan’s opposition, Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor, Homicide: Life on the Streets), is a seemingly respectable religious fanatic who conducts midnight sacrifices at his place of worship; inciting the congregation with a service on the righteousness of murder. As such, it’s easy to feel good when one of the film’s villains “gets what’s coming to them” – the Founding Father’s foot-soldiers are skinhead mercenaries – which somewhat goes against the implicit message of anti-violence. We are, after all, supposed to be against all this. Right..?
Image of frat boys carrying out executions with a guillotine off the main street, a killer in a grotesque George Washington masks (and natty Uncle Sam costume) or a neon-faced Lady Liberty, are genuinely striking; only if in a cursory way. It’s largely senseless, a lurid carnival of horrors that passes by in much the way. Election Year’s most astute touch is in its set-up for the next in franchise; a bit of foreshadowing that seems scarily topical in a way the rest of the half-baked social commentary does not (Edwidge is certainly more articulate than his real-life corollary).
Whether on cinema screens or the nightly news, I’m sure a sequel is imminent; in one form or another.