The Purge: Election Year Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Universal Pictures
Written and directed by James DeMonaco
2016, 109 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Movie released on 26th August 2016
Frank Grillo as Leo Barnes
Elizabeth Mitchell as Senator Charlie Roan
Mykelti Williamson as Joe Dixon
Betty Gabriel as Laney Rucker
“If she gets to pick her judges – nothing you can do, folks. Although the second amendment people – maybe there is, I don’t know.” Presidential wannabe Greg Stillson Donald Trump, accidentally beating Election Year to the punch by months. When idealistic Presidential Candidate Charlie Roan vows to put a stop to the annual Purge, America's ruling elite, in their panic, alter the rules: this year, the politicians are fair game too. Specifically though, it’s just the one who should be worrying.
And with Roan refusing to lock herself away in a rich people style bunker, not wanting to alienate the electorate, it’s down to tough bodyguard and Purge survivor Leo Barnes (a returning Frank Grillo) to keep her alive throughout Purge night. Easier said than done, given the high profile of his protectee and their attackers’ hefty bigwig-bankrolled weapons cache. Teaming up with besieged shop owner Joe Dixon, chummy yet lethal clerk Marcos and Good Samaritan Laney Rucker, Barnes and Roan hunker down for a long night.
The upward trajectory in quality for The Purge franchise continues, following up the fun sequel Anarchy with what might be the franchise’s best film to date. As before, it goes deeper into the world, this time looking to the political element of what makes The Purge’s America tick. And, as before, it’s the world-building which forms the film’s most interesting element. Now we’re three films in, writer and director James DeMonaco is able to answer questions about the world’s insurance game (hiking prices days before the Purge? Cheeky bastards) and foreign opinion – namely ‘murder tourists’ travelling from around the world to experience the event.
With its inventively dressed crazies and all manner of mayhem on the streets, Election Year ramps up the template set by Anarchy, at the same time recalling this year’s London Has Fallen in Barnes’s protection mission, crossed with the cult classic The Warriors. Barnes and Roan may have their work cut out defending themselves against heavily armed mercenaries, but the less professional criminal element is also represented – most notably a gang of schoolchildren determined to claim their candy bar from Joe’s shop... and also burn the place to the ground. While these teenage irritants are eye-rolling, gurning idiot caricatures who sap any sense of realism or believability from the proceedings, they do give Election Year its biggest and best moment (I cheered), so one can’t complain too much.
But, as the world-building tends to be more exciting than the series’ action and horror elements, so its politics form the most interesting element of the story. While Election Year is far from a political thriller, it is the most overtly political yet – opening in a sinister boardroom (think a Springfield Republican Party meeting), its members determined to do away with Roan before she abolishes their beloved Purge. Even hero Barnes feels somewhat peripheral, brooding on the sidelines while those more directly affected by the Purge take priority. Ever since a guy broke into Ethan Hawke’s home looking for shelter, the series has always had race on its mind, and this one carries on the trend with a refreshingly diverse cast and characters.
On that note, it’s disappointing that Roan is the least interesting person in the movie. Election Year literally revolves around this woman and her divisive politics, and yet she’s the meekest, least rounded person in it – a piece of luggage for Frank Grillo to drag around from location to location, pausing only to look scared or disapproving from time to time. Spending most of the climax with a gag in her mouth, she doesn’t even get a big Presidential speech in which to showcase her passion, instead lying inert and helpless while we wait for Frank Grillo to save the day (again). Still, Elizabeth Mitchell does what she can with what she has, and she does it well. Grillo, meanwhile, continues to show Marvel what they’re missing with his spot-on Punisher impersonation. Thankfully his brilliance does a good job of masking that his story effectively finished with Anarchy.
Election Year steadily improves on everything which has gone before, being the most thoughtful instalment to date. With its street-based action and returning hero, it’s inevitably a little derivative of the previous chapter, but it continues to be one of the smartest and inventive studio pictures out there. Once again, it stops short of realising its full potential, but it still trumps the rest.