So here I’ve been bitching and moaning about what in the Purge series of films is entirely unrealistic in this world and you know what’s really the biggest thing I find more unbelievable about the universe than its magic economics or its mostly well-behaved citizens who have never heard of drugs or hacking?
The concept that a woman could stand a hell of a chance at the presidential seat.
In spite of that unattainable fantasy, The Purge: Election Year is certainly the most improved of the franchise to this point yet. Ignoring the existence of the Rick and Morty episode. Which I shouldn’t have to say since it’s not part of the franchise. It’s still not much more than another of writer-director James DeMonaco’s (the same man who helmed the last two and thus conceived of the franchise to begin with) riffs at Assault on Precinct 13 and all the other John Carpenter films he has seen in his life, but it’s the first one where DeMonaco has given us a real gift he’s never given us before – a script with a very clear objective from the start to the finish (hey hey hey, maybe he saw the Rick and Morty episode) and a clear eagerness to expand on the The Purge universe as much as we can so that we’re not bitching and moaning about the make-up of it like I do.
Also, for a Carpenter riff, this is one of the more watchable ones, with the smoky streets covered in grungy night blues and hot burning yellows. DeMonaco has is clearly growing somewhat as a filmmaker (probably using the Purge films as his personal exercises) and while he still can’t shoot action scenes to save his life (unfortunate because once again, The Purge: Election Year has a plethora of shootouts), he’s got the ability to lay the urban atmosphere and necessity for the characters to lay low as they journey the streets from point to point like your good ol’ Carpenter did, only not remotely as good. Not even close to as good as Carpenter, but recognizable.
Anyway those points are attached to the plot and all of those are attached to universe being expanded so let’s point out how Election Year does so: as its name suggests, it is the first time we see a bit of the infrastructure of the government that brought up the Purge to begin with in the middle of its election year. At a huge lead over her opponent for the presidency is Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a candidate whose biggest platform is her intentions to abolish the Purge (as much as I made that snarky Clinton comment at the top, I had the biggest Bernie Sanders feeling from the character). This obviously doesn’t roll with the New Founding Fathers of America and so they revoke one of the central rules for this year’s Purge – the protection of government officials. The idea that anybody in this universe could have even a cursory understanding of politics – and given The Purge: Anarchy and especially a second plot in this film, we should assume it’s common – and not recognize this as a ploy on Roan’s life is comedic, but moving on.
Roan decides she’ll wait this out within her own home with her elite squad of TOTALLY incorruptible guards and it’s no big surprise when the security is indeed compromised and she’s forced out on the street with that one still breathing incorruptible guard who turns out to be… hey hey hey our old superpal sergeant from The Purge: Anarchy, once again played by Frank Grillo and even given an actual name this time around as Leo Barnes.
Their journeys find them the aid of a local shop owner Joe (Mylketi Williamson) who was forced to defend his shop for the night when his insurance premium went up at the last second, aided by his employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) and… I want to say, first responder – even though that goes way against the fact that emergency services are suspended during this night – Laney (Betty Gabriel). This caravan attempts to enlist the help of the same revolutionary anti-Purge group introduced in Anarchy and so the destinations are just as clear.
Once again, this lends itself to a whole lot of political and social commentary like DeMonaco is so eager to do and once again in the form of extremely clumsy arguments about urban crime, lower-class struggling, Republican eagerness to prevent separation of church and state, and… ugh… maybe this is just dismissive of me, but the way that Roan is presented as a great white hope to a majorly black cast and population is what really makes The Purge: Election Year have an incredibly bad taste in my mouth. Like I began this series with, I don’t like bad arguments for my ideals and I wonder if DeMonaco truly realized what he was doing when he basically had a premise that was a group of minorities with guns dying for this one blonde white woman who was saying she was going to make things better, but there it is. That’s only the objectionable aspect of the films’ political commentary… most of it seems eager to show off the little bit of knowledge DeMonaco has about the electoral process like it’s not something people learn in high school.
And even then the film starts getting all tangled between the guerilla and political side of the story to the point that I can hardly give a clear explanation of what happens in the final third beyond a series of loud once again incomprehensibly edited gun battles that lose all of that measured thriller sensibility. Hell, the only reason I can tell what side is what side is because frankly the good guy in a shootout in this film is black or latino or Frank Grillo and the bad guy is absolutely a white man in a suit. The final act of The Purge: Election Year is absolutely its laziest, even when it reaches its final beats and just apes protest movements (not sure if its meant to be a comment on BlackLivesMatter) in the least subtle manner it can, right down to it concluding in the super obvious shot of an American flag waving as a news broadcast talks about the social consequences of the ending note.
In spite of all this clumsiness and even while I come here to bury the movie, it is hard to recognize how DeMonaco IS growing more and more into a filmmaker and he’s inspired enough by what he’s created to try to figure out imaginary and sometimes genuinely manic ways to keep this world expanding, with the introduction of Murder Tourists – Europeans who travel on holiday to the United States specifically to take part in the Purge. This is maybe my single favorite element of the franchise – something above even Rick and Morty – and implies that perhaps DeMonaco will finally have his footing on a good movie next time around. He’s growing up. They grow up so fast.