I’m a longtime Purge fan. While I thought The Purge was pretty simple, it had a nice twist, nice performances, and was exactly the sort of low-budget success story that we should be trumpeting. The Purge: Anarchy, on the other hand, I freaking loved, calling it a true successor to the best of John Carpenter’s ’70s work. I didn’t get a chance to see The Purge: Election Year in the theater, but our man Raul Reyes did, and had a lot of good things to say.
So, needless to say, I’d been aching to get my eyes on this film, and when the opportunity to review the Blu-ray release came along, I was ready and rearing to go. However, the review copy didn’t arrive on time, and we missed the chance to run this review in advance of its release. But with the actual US Presidential election coming up, I pulled an Editor-in-Chief move and held on to this until today.
My personal politics are a little bitter with a side of idealism. I’m a social anarchist with socialist leanings. I support gun rights, I’m pro-abortion rights, anti-death penalty, pro-marriage equality, and anti-racist/sexist. I think there’s a class war going on, but it’s a top/down affair and the rich and powerful and doing everything they can to beat the middle class out of existence and keep the poor in their perceived place. I think the election is rigged, not by left or right, but by money and there’s never going to be a way to fix it without burning the whole thing down and starting from scratch – which would probably end up putting us in the same place or worse.
Let me just say that The Purge: Election Year opens with T-Rex’s “20th Century Boy” and ends with Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans.” For some of you out there, that should be enough to know whether or not this film’s for you.
It was definitely for me.
The film opens with a flashback to 18 years prior, where a Purge participant is making a family listen to his Purge Playlist, which ends with “20th Century Boy” and then “We Got the Funk” by George Clinton and Parliament. Turns out this is the family of current Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) and now, eighteen years later, she’s fighting to put an end to the Purge, much to the chagrin of the current ruling party, the NFFA (New Founding Fathers of America). Heading up her security detail is Secret Service agent Leo Barnes, who you might remember from The Purge: Anarchy, and is played to gruff perfection by Frank Grillo.
The NFFA, headed by Mike Pence lookalike Caleb Warrens (Raymond J. Barry), is backing Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor) for the Presidency, and since Roan is gaining ground, they make a desperate play to finish her off for good: they relax the law keeping political figures safe during the Purge. From that point, we get about twenty-five minutes of character set-up as we’re introduced to our lower-income heroes, shop-owner Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson), immigrant-with-a-dark-past-and-heart-of-gold, Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and former Purge Night superstar legend, Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel).
As with both of the previous Purge films, this is all by the numbers, but in a good, solid way that hearkens back to 70s classics like Assault on Precinct 13 (DeMonaco wrote the screenplay to the 2005 remake) or Halloween. But as much as three-time Purge writer/director James DeMonaco loves that storytelling aesthetic, his heart is really set on visualizing the violent fantasies of the Purgers. There are some haunting and horrifying images in this film as Laney drives around in an ambulance on Purge Night tending to the wounded. The most striking are the brief glimpse of a beheading in a firey alleyway, the Lincoln Memorial flanked by bonfires and covered in graffiti, women or maybe girls in white dresses dancing around a tree filled with lynching victims, and a muscle-bound man covered in blood declaring himself the Fittest for survival.
It’s a nightmarish dreamscape of Ids on parade, and it’s into this that Leo and Senator Roan find themselves after the NFFA hit squad, made up of White Supremacists, attempts to assassinate her in her home.
Yes, the politics of this film is clearly worn on its sleeve, and the alignment of neo-Nazis with conservative religious fanatics is a bit on-the-nose this political season, but it’s all so damn enjoyable, right down the final epic knife fight between Leo and the leader of the paramilitary assassins, Earl Danziger (Terry Serpico).
Also thrown into the mix is Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge), who is essentially an Anti-Purge militant who both runs an underground hospital for Purge victims and is planning the assassination of Minister Owens (which ultimately turns into a rescue mission for Sen. Roan when she is captured and slated for murder/sacrifice by the NFFA). This brings about the traditional “You can’t kill him and make him a martyr” argument that nobody’s trying to make for Roan for some reason, but it does what it’s supposed to do, and establish Sen. Roan as the voice of reason and hope; pure amongst the filth.
And Leo is there to make sure she stays clean, even if it means killing everyone coming after her.
Politically, The Purge: Election Year is clear in its condemnation of politicized religion, which gives the film a liberal slant by default, as far as the broad-stroke plot goes. But when you get down into the muck, there’s a fascination here with the selfish violence of American culture, represented most emphatically by Kimmy (Brittany Mirabile) and her “Schoolgirl Freakbride” posse. These girls are hyper-sexualized and hyper-violent, operating solely to satisfy their most basic appetites. Kimmy, covered in gore and wearing a Kiss Me mask, has already killed her parents and is ready to kill Joe and anyone else in her way as she demands the candy she was kept from shoplifting from the store earlier.
The Freakbrides are mirrored by the foreign “Murder Tourists” from South Africa who nearly kill Leo and Sen. Roan before being gunned down in classic grindhouse fashion by Joe and Marcos. They are essentially a murder gang cosplaying as American Iconic Symbols and are an amazing visual, particularly as they’re being shot repeatedly by our heroes. I’m sure there’s something that could be said here about foreign money corrupting America but being weeded out by small business owner patriots, but I’ll leave that for you folks to work out.
In the end, we get our happy ending, after the traditional sacrificial characters are trotted out and nobly murdered, but as the film fades to black and the opening of Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans” begins to play, the news is sharing reports of a conservative backlash as violence is breaking out across the country with the announcement of new President Roan’s victory. So will the inevitable next Purge film continue on or will it circle back and go the prequel route? Odds are on a prequel at the moment, but only time will tell.
Deleted Scenes: As per usual with this sort of thing, the deleted scenes don’t really add anything to the story, except for clarifying Sen. Roan’s love of Five Guys burgers.
Inside The Purge: The cast and crew are all here to discuss the themes of the film, how close to reality it is (or isn’t), and sing the praises of DeMonaco, who’s singular vision has made the Purge franchise a thing of low-budget filmmaking legend (the first Purge film made $89 million on a $3 million budget, Anarchy made $111 million on a $9 million budget, and Election Year ended up with a box office total of $118 on a $10 million budget).
Character Spotlight: Leo: This is a short love letter to Frank Grillo. I highly recommend it!