The pretense of a self-reflective political message makes The Purge: Election Year the most distasteful kind of exploitation. The franchise is a cautionary fantasy that is allowed to have fun with the dystopian premise, but you can’t have it both ways. The last film was The Purge: Anarchy. This is The Purge: Malarky.
Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is running for President on the platform to end the purge. She lost her family in a purge 18 years ago. Considering the first movie was set on year five of the purge (which began in 2017), this still gives the franchise a good 11-12 years to exploit in between. Leo (Frank Grillo) is head of Roan’s security. If his purge was year six, then this is at least 12 years later and he should be in his late ’50s. Or The Purge: Anarchy was 10 years after the first movie (it’s not according to this interview with Jason Blum).
The New Founding Fathers want Roan out of the race so they even lift protections on politicians for this year’s purge, blatantly allowing them to kill her. Meanwhile, deli owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson) has to defend his store on purge night while his daughter Laney (Betty Gabriel) patrols the streets in an armored truck helping victims of the purge.
The clever, subversive point of view to take would have been that the country wants the purge so it’s the citizens who don’t want Roan to win. That would show how far gone the country had gotten after 18 years or purging. Making it the corrupt politicians is just lazy and superficial. It opens with the chief of the NFFA (Raymond J. “The Wrong Kid Died” Barry) using both C words to show how one dimensionally evil he is.
There is a valid point that even a proposal as preposterous as the purge could be manipulated by politicians and corporations. Insurance companies jack up rates for purge insurance the day before purge, knowing their customers can’t pay it so they can bail on paying out coverage. The government likes the poor killing the poor because they can cut spending on relief for the poor if they’re all dead.
Unfortunately, The Purge: Election Year also validates that poor black youth are the the major purgers. I mean, I believe that giving license to a night of violence would really enable posers to go all the way, but do you want to validate that stereotype while you’re pretending to be anti-purge? Quoting “the better angels of our nature” does not make it deep. You can look that up on Wikipedia.
Clearly, The Purge: Election Year is more concerned with being loud and obnoxious than making a point, and it shows its hand too early for you to care about anything on its mind. It has the cheapest jump scares of the trilogy. Two of them happen before the purge even begins. The score features the throbbing sound of steel machines scraping together. That is not intense It’s just unpleasant to endure. Even the Saw movies, utilizing a similar aesthetic, found a melody in it that built to their reveals.
The variety of purgers shows that purging appeals to people with horrible taste in music and fashion. Music choice is blatant in two key purges, and everyone dresses in tacky, dirty clothes and ugly, not scary masks. I guess they don’t want to get their nice clothes bloody, but if the purge were indeed a celebration, wouldn’t people find a way to express themselves creatively with washable or disposable materials?
It doesn’t matter because whenever we meet any potentially interesting villains, they are suddenly dismissed. This hurts the political message too, because some of those purgers are characters set up earlier with interesting motivations. If they’re dispatched without ever being explored, that means the film cares little about the message they represent.
There are a few fun moments scattered throughout. Leo’s preparations are cool. Lainey gets a few satisfying kills. Leo and Roan run into one booby trap, which reminds you how cool it might be if other purgers set traps for people and this were a more clever movie. It all ends in a boring gunfight where they cut back and forth and then it’s over.
The Purge was a promising franchise that expanded its breadth in the sequel. With even more freedom, the filmmakers have shown that they’re not interested in delivering thrills, creative purging or even a subversive message. It’s all blatant, vile and aggressive. As a fan of gratuitous exploitation, I want to tell filmmakers this is not what I’m about.