The latest Purge offers nothing new or interesting, instead spewing out confused moralistic standpoints dressed up in a distracting aesthetic.
The latest, but certainly not greatest, installment to hit screens from director James DeMonaco came just in time for this years hot-button topic of the American election – but sadly isn’t quite as scary as Trump being in power. Regurgitating a tired and poorly explored parallel universe once more, The Purge: Election Year seems to confuse itself with the moral highground it tries to take. Pulling the problems of crime, class, and colour into one messy narrative only seems to promote stereotypical character tropes. There’s the overridingly hypocritical notion of ‘violence deters violence’ – guns and killing is bad, unless you’re wiping out some bad guys with a particularly impressive…guillotine?
It’s been two years since Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) stopped himself from seeking deadly revenge on purge night. Since then, he’s realised the brutality of the event and has chosen to side with Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), working as her bodyguard and head of security. As the New Founding Fathers once again exert their corruption and set a target on the left-wing senator (who’s goal is to end the purge once and for all should she be elected), Barnes proves himself useful with a gun and and his measured approach to the grisly events of the evening. With enemies around every corner and the purge night commencing, the two must survive the streets of D.C. if there’s any hope of ending the 12 hour law-free-murder-spree – but they aren’t alone in their endeavor.
Enlisting the help of shop keeper Joe (Mykelti Williamson) and medic Laney (Betty Gabriel), along with Marcos (J. J. Soria) – a loyal cashier from Joe’s grocery store – we watch as the group undertakes defensive strategies to keep Senator Roan alive. Their best collective hope of ending the Purge for good, each has something to lose if she falls prey to the ‘murder tourists’, the New Founding Fathers, or just one of the crazies roaming the streets at night. It’s nice that the franchise is aiming for something different and exploring different types of American’s and their experience of the Purge; alas, it doesn’t quite hit the mark it aims for when it comes to representation. Utilising character tropes that are tired and worn out (the black gang members, brave working class heroes defending their territory, aggressive foreigners), The Purge series doesn’t have anything new or exciting to add to its already thinly spread ideology. Capitalising on contemporary political issues to spark debate is one thing – but at least have something to actually say about it.
Election Year, whilst a watchable, entertaining (to an extent) type of horror film that slots neatly into its franchise, offers only cheap surface level aesthetic coupled with cringey characterisation and intensely wobbly filming. Brittany Mirabile’s psychotic schoolgirl epitomises the former – building a pantomime-esque persona with absolutely zero depth or originality. We are supposed to take it on the chin that this heavily armed teenager and all her friends will kill a store owner for reprimanding her shoplifting earlier in the day, just after slaughtering both her parents for the heck of it. In the same film, religious zealots intent on blood sacrifice, neo-nazis in full army gear, and European hunters taking on ‘the American way’ to release their killer instincts on the people of D.C. flood the streets. The Purge has never been a subtle idea, but the diabolically two dimensional characters that roam the streets at night just scream lazy story telling. The focus is on the spooky masks and gruesome deaths – which would be fine if the film embraced this rather than selling itself on a political message it can’t hold up. The Purge presents itself as the frightening unravelment of society as we know it stemming from America’s obsession with violence, but the only solution it offers is to kill as many as you can before they kill you.
Maybe by actually thinking about the direction of the narrative a little more the film would flesh out and hold some interesting ideas instead of exaggerating to the point of farce. As it stands, it’s pretty to look at and at least tries to offer something new from its predecessors – though it looks like there’s still one more try to get it right in the works from DeMonaco with the fourth installment in the series. Like that old saying, let’s hope it has a little more spark than a car covered in fairy lights. No, I have no idea why they did that either.
The Purge: Election Year, directed by James DeMonaco, is released on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK through Universal Pictures. Certificate 15.