The Purge: Election Year couldn't be timelier, arriving in the middle of one of the most contentious, violent, and racist Presidential campaign seasons ever. As one particular candidate with really bad hair and a disturbing attraction to his own daughter continues to spout hateful rhetoric appealing to America's worst nature, the third film in James DeMonaco's gory and brilliant franchise explores the natural result of that hatred given unchecked political power. Call it a dystopian vision of Trump's America if you want, but The Purge: Election Year is terrifying because it's not as far-fetched as we may want to believe.
What's been most impressive about these movies is how narratively nimble it has been since the very beginning. Beginning as a simple home invasion flick with politics deep in the background, the sequel brought the rich vs. poor dynamic into the forefront, making for a gruesome allegory of the economic disparity in our country. DeMonaco seems to be trying to play it both ways this time, setting much of the political discussion aside to get back to the bloodbath much of the audience probably showed up for.
Picking up a two years after the last film's events, the Presidential campaign season is in full swing. The shadowy cabal of nativists known as the Founding Fathers (Republicans, let's keep it real) are still in power, pushing their rhetoric that our founders would have approved of the annual Purge, in which all crimes, including rape and murder, are legal for a 12-hour period. They've been using the Purge to wipe out much of the poor and minority communities as a means of saving money on social welfare programs, with all of that extra money going to the top 1%. This time, however, the Founding Fathers have an opponent to contend with in Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) who vows to end the Purge once and for all. The President (played by Homicide's Kyle Secor) is a total nutjob who sees the Purge as a religious experience, leading an actual congregation of killers who will do anything to maintain their bloodthirsty way of life.
With the Purge on the way, Charlie is an obvious target for assassination. Fortunately her head of security is Leo Barnes (the returning Frank Grillo), who has channeled his rage and grief over his family's death during the Purge into a need to see the event abolished. Frank is the ultimate badass and the guy you want on your side night falls and the Purge commences. Armed with only his wits and a single revolver he takes on whole groups of costumed freaks, most dressed like twisted versions of patriotic figures such as Uncle Sam, who are armed to the teeth with rocket launchers, bazookas, drones, every manner of death machine. There’s also the roving pack of Nazi skinheads employed by the Founding Fathers to capture Charlie so she can be executed in a weird religious ritual.
The Purge: Election Year isn't just about Leo's attempts to keep Charlie free from harm. As usual the film catches us up with those on the ground who don't have the benefit of armed security guards. Mykelti Williamson plays Joe, a deli owner who could lose everything after pissing off an afro-puffed hoodrat who tried to steal a candy bar. When she returns later on, dressed like a carnival reject from the day of the dead, she comes with a whole crew ready to burn the shop down and kill anyone inside. Fortunately Joe has some help from a former gangster and an optimistic immigrant, exactly the kind of people the Purge was designed to eliminate.
The little details DeMonaco includes are always a nice touch, such as the "Murder Tourists", foreigners who fly in just to take part in the Purge. "It's the American way" one says before he's mowed down in a hail of gunfire. The violence is over-the-top but the imagery is frequently disturbing for the casual way it’s depicted; a woman in a rocking chair by the road watching a man burn...or an actual guillotine in an alley chopping heads off. There hasn't been this much red in DC streets since the last time the Redskins won the Super Bowl. The action is brutal but also pretty comical, sped up for maximum video game effect. Sorry (not sorry) but it's funny to watch a chainsaw-wielding maniac in a teddy bear costume get blown away by a shotgun blast.
What's not at all humorous is how The Purge: Election Year echoes much of the ugly, dehumanizing rhetoric we hear, always from those who have everything, about the less fortunate. Last year there was a story that two Trump supporters beat up a homeless man, shouting the Presidential candidate's name as they did it. He denounced it later on but continued to spout the same rhetoric that inspired their actions. Is that really so far off from anything seen in The Purge?
Fans of the previous films will be happy to know that other key characters return, and there's a tease for even more purging in the future. There's a very clear direction these movies can go next but to give it away would spoil a surprisingly bittersweet finale. Wherever the story goes next our own screwed up system of government will likely remain an inspiration, which should scare you enough to want to spark a revolution.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5