Stars: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Betty Gabriel, Joseph Julian Soria
Directed by: James DeMonaco
Opening Date: Friday July 1st, 2016
After watching the first two Purge films, law abiding, tax paying citizens left cinemas feeling more anarchically and criminally inclined than ever before. It’s alarming how easy it is for our minds to wander and fantasize about the scandalous activities we’d involve ourselves in should an organization like the NFFA come to power and enact the annual purge. What would you do? Would you barricade and arm yourself indoors, waiting to pounce at the sound of the faintest creak down the hall? Would you have a stern talking to, and a subsequent violent encounter, with your next door neighbor who didn’t pay for their half of the fence? Or would you take to the streets, guns blazin’, alleviating all of that internal angst and anger with the world? Maybe you’d do all three in the inverse order.
Being my angelic self, I didn’t really have much of a plan until the credits rolled for the Purge: Election Year. Now it might be a bit of stretch, but bear with me, here it is. I would take a plane to Miami the day prior to the purge, and seeing as trespassing would be legal the very next day, I’d enter Michael Bay’s property, politely knock on his door and, provided that he didn’t purge me first, ask WHY DID YOU MAKE THIS MOVIE?
Before I get into that, let’s examine the interesting premise behind the purge films. ‘Merica, year 2022, a newly utopian environment where crime, unemployment and economic unrest are practically nonexistent thanks to the innovative, albeit insane, thinking from the incumbent political automaton. A light bulb flickers on, and an entirely feasible, yet oxymoronic reform is put into action to counteract the forces of evil plaguing American civilization. Crime is stopped by, get this, encouraging crime, but only when it’s designated over the period of a single night. The suits shake hands, the idea curator gets a pat on the back and a raise, and next thing you know, everyone’s raping, pillaging from and killing each other. Brilliant.
A fantastic horror movie concept on paper, but in practice, over the course of two mediocre films, I can’t say they followed through, and the newest iteration of the franchise is easily the worst out of the three. It’s slightly nuanced; lazily paralleling the throws of the modern day American election, except instead of threats of wall building and deportation, our tradition upholding right wing minister (Kyle Secor) wants to keep America gory and great as opposed to great once again. On the opposing side of the political spectrum, we have our liberally minded, underdog Senator, Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who wants to permanently be rid of the purge, a celebration that has been revealed to target the lower class on the socioeconomic scale. The opportunistic, masters of evil-esque group known as the NFFA, who’re in bed with the minister, take the opportunity the purge presents to scheme a little assassination in order to make sure they have a clean sweep come election time. Roan, alongside her macho man head of security, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) are forced to escape, and unite with a group of campaign supporters who help the dynamic duo fend through the rest of the night.
Now that we’ve got the typical survival horror plot out of the way, let’s start with the underwhelming performances from a good majority of the actors that characterized it. I’ll start with Mitchell’s and Grillo’s seeing as they were in tandem for a good part of the film. Her epitomized politician character was played pretty well. A robotic woman of few words and one that lacks any sort of personality, with most of her dialogue comprising of shallow, jargoned phrases, fake promised political mumbo-jumbo and general disarray with everything that transpires. It seemed as though Grillo’s dialogue, once they made it outside, could be boiled down to “hey you can’t do that it’s dangerous,” or “we need to move, FAST,” or “I don’t like this,” followed by him either fighting someone, doing that thing, or not doing that thing at varying speeds.
Then we’ve got our unofficial, official family of “common man” ex-badasses comprising of Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson), Marcos (Joseph Soria), and Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel). The former is the only source of comic relief in the film, and it’s almost entirely racially oriented. Don’t expect any meta-humor here: Negro this, Negro that, Crip whistling, fried chicken jokes, all of which were just cheaply scoured laughs that couldn’t manage to evoke even a slight giggle out of me. Marcos, much like his last name, had no real presence throughout the film. Yes he was there, I’m more than aware of that, but if they just plucked him out of the narrative it wouldn’t have really made much of a difference. Then there’s Laney who’s like one of those street toughs that secretly volunteers at the local animal shelter on the weekends. Her overzealous aggression, and straight faced indifference became a bit overbearing at times, but her performance was one of the more redeeming ones.
Surprisingly enough, not everything was terrible. Producer Michael Bay showed his capability to tame himself from his explosion fetish and jump scare use for the most part, but instead replaced it with cartoonish violence. The team did make an honest attempt at contextually freaking us out to moderate success. Any person with a working pair of eyes will not be able to discredit the talent behind the set and costume designing team either. They created a nail biting, blood spattered, destructive aesthetic, which made an otherwise dull film feel a bit more immersive.
Overall, I’m less reluctant to call this film creepy rather than horrifying or even scary. In fact, there was even sometimes where the filmmakers pushed for sadness, or terror, or intensity in certain scenarios, but were only met with howling laughter instead. For all these reasons, the Purge: Election Year is an unintentional comedy set in a mildly creepy, dystopian future. I can’t personally recommend it, but if you still have the guts to go see it, good luck and may god have mercy on your eyes. I give the Purge Election Year a 4 out of 10.