Movie review: ‘Purge: Election Year’ shoots first and votes later
People of a certain political persuasion should be warned that “Purge: Election Year” pushes an agenda that might not be to their liking.
Those familiar with the “Purge” films — this is number three — know the premise: for 12 hours, the government sanctions all manner of crime, including murder. No police protection will be provided. The system has been established by the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) to purportedly lower crime and unemployment rates when in actuality, it’s an excuse to rid the country of have-nots. These include minorities.
In an election year, one candidate for president, a minister who speaks with evangelical fervor (Kyle Secor), favors continuing the Purge. His catchphrase: “Purge and purify!”
The other candidate, a woman who survived a Purge attack that killed her family (Elizabeth Mitchell), wants the Purge eliminated. The NFFA, fearing this woman, Sen. Charlene “Charlie” Roan, could win the election, hires a gang of neo-Nazis to remove her from the scene.
Any parallels to this year’s election are purely intentional.
When Roan decides to stay in her home and not retreat to a protective bunker — she doesn’t want to be seen as a coward - Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), her head of security, has to figure out a way to protect her. A betrayal takes them to the streets, which are decidedly mean as Purge night attracts “murder tourists” to Washington, D.C. (Providence and Woonsocket, Rhode Island, act as substitutes).
The unfortunates find themselves on the working end of a guillotine, strapped to the hood of a car like deer, skewered with arrows, shot and set on fire. Violence reigns extreme. One homicidal maniac, dressed as Uncle Sam, speaks with a Russian accent. Subtle.
Before the carnage begins, we get introduced to Joe (Mykelti Williamson), a deli owner who decides to defend his store when his Purge insurance rates go up, his Mexican assistant, Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and Laney (Betty Gabriel), who now runs a triage van to assist Purge survivors. This trio eventually meets up with Roan and Barnes, and they all try their best to stay alive by disposing of killers in the process. These include a seriously deranged schoolgirl (Brittany Mirabile), who didn’t appreciate being denied a candy bar at Joe’s store. She shows up later with friends, armed and dangerous, seeking revenge, as Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” plays in the background.
On the periphery is a group of anti-Purge radicals led by Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge), who believes the only way to end the violence is through violence. Did I mention that this film is violent?
Writer-director James DeMonaco, who helmed the first two “Purge” films, has built a successful franchise here with a concept guaranteed to shed blood — and thus make money - but he clearly has no trouble injecting divisive politics into the fray. His script also displays a potent sense of humor, with Williamson stealing the film with enough politically incorrect one-liners to fill a stand-up routine. Most of the dialogue, though, is of the boilerplate variety.
The film also shamelessly stacks the deck — Roan might as well wear a halo. The film’s climactic scene even takes place in a church where NFFA members watch from the pews with sadistic glee as the minister places his hands on a lunatic wearing cleric clothes (Christopher James Baker) and commands him to kill a drug addict. The congregation even sings the Christian hymn “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” Did I say this film was subtle? And is it a coincidence that all the NFFA members are white and many in the opposition are black?
Grillo, who starred in the second film, plays the straight man here, barely showing any emotion as he risks his life to save Roan’s. Ironically, there’s a lot of life-saving going on here. Terry Serpico is also a plus as the leader of the neo-Nazis. His character looks good in swastikas.
It’s hard to say “Purge: Election Year” provides an example of art imitating life since I don’t even think DeMonaco would call his horror film art, but the movie does deliver the goods in showing the bad side of human nature. Good luck legislating that out of the system.
“Purge: Election Year” is rated R for disturbing bloody violence and profanity. The film is 110 minutes long and was written and directed by James DeMonaco. It stars Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell and Mykelti Williamson.
‘Purge: Election Year’ (B)