It’s a crazy political landscape we’re living in.
Talk of building walls and banning certain races and religions has become a depressingly normal rhetoric of hate. The wealthy and politically elite have further insulated themselves from common law and repercussions, while the poor and vulnerable are increasingly disenfranchised, left at the mercy of whatever brutality comes next — be it financially based or from law enforcement.
Our country feels like it’s at a tipping point and The Purge: Election Year pulls out all the stops to tap into that growing social unrest, to surprisingly effective results.
The Purge series has never been what you would call “masterful cinema.” The original film, while still boasting the most enticing cast, squandered a great premise on a routine home invasion thriller.
The Purge: Anarchy — still very much a workmanlike experience of lite horror — apparently listen to audience recommendations and opened up the world of The Purge to have the chaos unfold on the streets.
The Purge: Election Year still only skirts the edge of acceptable filmmaking but takes a complete dive into trying to mirror the madness to our current environment. As such, Election Year is a grotesque, over-the-top satire of America’s increasingly dark politics.
It may be rough but it’s a film that has things it wants to say and the gusto to put it all out there.
Subtlety is not even remotely a factor with Election Year. If you might have missed that the purge is a systematic tool against poor people and minorities, this movie certainly proclaims it enough to drive the point home.
Likewise, the craggly old conservative villains of the film repeat their talking point that the Purge makes America great enough times for even the most politically out of touch audience member to draw some connections.
In most cases, this would be a bad thing but The Purge series has largely earned the benefit of the doubt. We know by now these movies are allegories meant for the masses, and thus it’s not surprising that they make their message as obvious as possible.
There’s still a fun sense that both Election Year and Anarchy are modern-day answers to Escape from New York that works in the movie’s favor, as does Frank Grillo’s natural action star presence.
One thing that gives the film a bit of grisly intrigue is stumbling upon smaller purge vignettes unfolding on the street. A man gets killed by a guillotine, crazy teen schoolgirls attack a convenience store as payback, an older woman calmly keeps warm next to a flaming corpse — it’s little moments like these that give the film more of its character.
And it certainly needs these flashes of interest because while the message and select parts of the film are strong, a lot of the basic elements of The Purge: Election Year are still lacking.
Most of the footage is dim and monotonous, the action sequences are too unfocused or chopped up in the edit room to be as effective as they can be, characters are mostly flat and sometimes stereotypes, attempts at humor can be downright painful and the movie sags going into the third act.
Those looking for scares and gruesome kills should be aware by now that this isn’t really the series for that. While there are a number of weak jump scares, the tension in Election Year comes more from the feeling that this crazy world is closing in around you.
Likewise, one of the more questionable aspects of these movies is the violence. Barring a few bloody kills, most of the carnage of the film is gunplay and is largely tamed down or glossed over. There’s certainly a lot of it going on but to treat it in such an offhanded, tame manner takes away from how horrible it should be.
Instead, it comes off as just another thing that happens, which, ironically, is something pro-purge advocates might argue.
It’s easy to think what might have been if the Purge series had been made by a different group with much more finesse than it ultimately was, now that it would appear the story is coming to a close.
But finesse was never really a factor for this series at all. Honestly, it started out as a grungy, cheap way to milk out another basic thriller and ended up two movies later as a much grungier, still-cheap thriller that decided it had something to say about the way things are headed.
The difference in the long run was that it finally found a way to apply itself.