Neither here nor there, Election Year fails to propel the series forward from it's surprisingly entertaining predecessor and feels much more like a step backwards, but not without its moments.
From when it was first dreamt up, the main concept from the series has been one that’s both highly disturbing and ridiculously inane. The 2013 entry which kickstarted the franchise horrifically under utilized its ideas and instead of being a satire on the obsession with violence in America, it panned out as a home invasion movie (a bad one at that). Thankfully however, the sequel The Purge:Anarchy, learned from that mistake and took the action to the streets, with a much bigger scale and surprisingly a much sharper blade when it came to its satire and unconventional wit. This year, the threequel couldn’t have been better timed. With the real US elections coming up, Election Year knowingly draws comparisons with the race, ridiculous at it may seem. But the question would always have been: does Election Year finally nail the balance between dystopian action, horror and biting satire?
The plot, which follows from Anarchy, sees us witness an election race between the forces that are The New Founding Fathers, and an independent newcomer Charlie Roan, whose campaign is built around ending the purge. With the race becoming too tight for the New Founding Fathers, they decide that during this annual purge, they’d do a little ‘spring cleaning’. Unfortunately, they didn’t factor in that her body guard is, you’ve guessed it, our buddy from Anarchy Leo Barns. Straight from the offset Election Year stumbles at its first hurdle.
The idea of the New Founding Father’s is a deliciously sinister and evil one. To think they believe they have saved the nation and rewritten the foundations of America by introducing the purge is fantastically twisted and would’ve been a great nuance in the world-building of this franchise.What pulls this down is that instead of them being subtle, scheming Machiavellian powers in the background, they are brought right to the foreground and portrayed as utterly insane, cookie-cutter villainous scumbags, of the over-the-top nature. It’s a shame that Director/Writer James DeMonaco went this direction with this particular plot point as they felt much more terrifying and believable when they were in the shadows and on the frays of the story like in Anarchy. Although the story this time around called for a more direct influence from them, it could’ve still been shrouded in some mystery.
What stood out from the original purge is that although it had a high concept idea, it kept low-budget sensibilities. The violence, when it came, was grimy and brutal and stuck with you. In this sense, that theme and feel has been carried right through the series, on an even bigger scale in Anarchy and Election Year. What irked me a little, however, is this time the violence, although shot and captured the same way, feels less hard hitting. Between a raid on the senators house to fighting to survive out on the streets, a lot of the action feels perfunctory rather than disturbing. This is a let down to the fact that a lot of the secondary characters introduced really have no soul or interest. From the man who wants to protect his shop from purgers, to his immigrant employee, none really attempt to grab your attention or affection, which in turn means that when things get ugly, you don’t care enough to be shocked by any of it.
Of course, in some cases there are brief moments wherein DeMonaco stages some briefly shocking imagery (such as a woman burning her husband and singing a lullaby as she watches on and a bunch of teens using a guillotine on families) but none of these feature the primary or secondary cast, and only feel disturbing because we are witnessing barbaric violence with no motive, something that is always bound to take us aback in any instance. Without the humour or any of the satire that elevated the sequel from it’s lesser predecessor, what we are left with is a relentlessly grim and at times tiresome entry that stretches to fill it’s 110 minute running time with enough thrills.
That’s not to say, however, that it’s all-bad. The idea that the purge has developed from a device to ‘purge’ yourself from all the violence and hate to a systematic way to eliminate the lower classes is an interesting development, if not a tad undeveloped. Frank Grillo’s return as Leo is again great fun. He’s exactly the no nonsense, badass that the series needs and Grillo’s steely demeanor is perfect for it. Elizabeth Mitchell’s debut in the series is also a good addition, the only draw back being that her character is a little to clean-cut. While most of the action lacks the punch of Anarchy, some of the aforementioned shots that DeMonaco does capture will make you wince, the third-act in particular in which we see the full-blown insanity of the New Founding Fathers is a brief but well-done segment.
With the ending of this film, it’s hard to see in which direction the franchise will move forward. But considering that the budget for these films flirts around a minimal 10 million budget, it’s safe to assume that we’ll be seeing more.
The Purge:Election Year (2016) directed by James DeMonaco, is distributed in the Uk by Universal Pictures, Certificate 15.