Despite a rocky start, James DeMonaco, the mind behind The Purge franchise, proved that the high concept idea behind the films – for one night every year, all crime, including murder, is legal in America – had greater potential than its original home invasion narrative, by opening the story up to wider ideas about politics, race and economics in its 2014 sequel, The Purge: Anarchy.
An impressive sequel in that it managed to be equally as exciting as it was satirical, the promise of future ‘Purge’ films was heightened as soon as details of this latest instalment, ‘Election Year’, began to emerge. In what is a piece of twisted genius, the story here takes place during a presidential election year, where America has to decide between a pro-purge member of the NFFA (New Founding Fathers Association) or a former victim of the annual event, Senator Charlie Roan, who wants to abolish the “tradition” forever.
At a time when America faces the very real choice of electing either Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump as their next president, this new entry into the series feels like a case of perfect timing. Even so, I’d be surprised if DeMonaco had any idea just how much his idea would come quite so close to reflecting real life, modern day issues that are particularly prevalent in America.
In what is one of many moments in which ‘Election Year’ feels frighteningly familiar, it opens with the leaders of the NFFA, a group made up primarily of men, who begin to plot the demise of their political rival. The misogynistic language used to describe her (bitch, the ‘C’ word) has similar tones to the sexist terminology that Trump and his supporters have used against Clintion during his ugly campaign.
What’s also instantly noticable about the NFFA is that all the members are white, and it’s within DeMonaco’s portrayal of racial divisions in a pro-purge America that the film is at its most uncanny. With the emergence of the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement during the film’s production, there’s added resonance in the story which envisions what is essentially a cull of black people (usually poor or homeless) whilst a protected group of white rich people watch on nonchalantly.
However, whilst the politics and the satire are on point, the scares and the thrills from ‘Anarchy’ are sorely missing. Sitting rather uncomfortably between the slasher-style horror of past instalments, and a 24-type action thriller, Frank Grillo’s Leo Barnes returns as Senator Roan’s head of security, who quickly finds himself admist all of the purge mayhem once again when NFFA mercenaries attack Roan’s safe house.
As soon as the pair hit the blood-soaked streets, the action is intermittent and comes in peaks and troughs. And, whilst it isn’t without its moments – a finale set within in a church is pretty tense – ‘Election Year’ lacks the bite of its predecessor and seems content in simply going through the motions. It’s not very scary – I jumped only the once – nor is it particularly exciting. But, perhaps most importantly, it’s not very memorable either.
There’s certainly a lot to admire about The Purge: Election Year, whether it be the film’s blacker-than-black satire, or DeMonaco’s continued world building – little details such as “purge tourism” and disposal units which act as rubbish trucks for dead bodies are amongst the horrific additions to the director’s vision – but for all of its ideas, this is a step down from the visceral, edge-of-your-seat fun that was ‘Anarchy’.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com