Eighteen years ago, Senator Charlene Roan lost her entire family to a crazed maniac during one of the annual national Purges. Since then, Roan has made eliminating the Purge her number one priority, and has not only become a member of the senate, but now has gone as far as to run for president. The Republican minister she’s up against has quite a large following of angry, gun-toting fans, but Roan is hot on his heels, needing only to win the electoral votes in Florida to push ahead and clinch the election. Knowing this, the minister and his main support group, the ‘NFFA’ (a fairly obvious nod to the NRA), set out to destroy the Senator on Purge night, hoping to snuff out her life before she sweeps him in the polls. However, the man has clearly underestimated his opponent. Roan wasn’t beaten down when a stranger murdered her loved ones directly in front of her, and she’s not about to back down to a cheap assassination attempt, especially when surviving the night and winning the presidency means so much for the people of her country. With Hell in the streets, and former police sergeant turned head of security Barnes (Frank Grillo) at her side, living through this night will be her greatest challenge yet. The only way out is through, as she navigates her way amidst the madness, the grime, and the gore of this bloodthirsty city, in The Purge: Election Year.
The Purge series has always been both an exciting premise and a frustrating franchise. The notion that America could one day introduce a policy as hellish as the annual Purge, a twelve-hour event where all crime is legal, including murder, is a fascinating concept that pulsates with possibilities, and yet, every installment feels exactly the same.
The first Purge movie, back in 2013 (led by Ethan Hawke) introduces the idea that this yearly event could cut down on crime, but at what cost? It takes place mainly in Hawke’s wealthy home and showed the horrors that come with an ever-growing gap between the economic classes and how the special night was is actually an attack on the poor. The second film, Purge: Anarchy takes the story to the streets and follows around a couple caught outside right when the annual mayhem starts. Although the second entry finally gave audiences that peek into the crime-ridden streets that they’d been wanting to see when the Purge commences, it still sends the same message, that the Purge is an attack on the financially unstable. It also emphasizes the debate over whether vengeance is ever really justified, an idea that was touched on in the first but became much more pronounced in the second. Now, the third Purge movie is here, and despite its shiny new Trump vs. Hillary tie-in, it’s still the same old story, still the same tired statement about how the Purge is basically a masked attempt to wipe out anyone the government has to support monetarily. It’s an admittedly unique premise, but with this being the third movie, it would be nice to see a different type of commentary being driven home, or at least a new type of crime committed other than just murder.
At the very least, The Purge: Election Year gives viewers a glimpse into what a world with Trump as president might look like. It’s a nasty, selfish and savage place, where primal urges run rampant and money speaks louder than dead bodies. In a strange and terrifying way, it’s not that different than the world we’re living in right now. It makes you realize how close we really are as a country to creating a national holiday just as an excuse to pick each other off in the streets, to gun each other down like dogs in the name of aimless rage. Trump’s maniacal tendencies and frightening influence ring loud and clear in this exaggerated “What if” scenario of the future we’re currently carving out for ourselves, forcing us to look at what we’ve become with razor sharp honesty, and the truth hurts.
On this front, the third Purge succeeds. The basic plot points are interesting. Where it fails is in its strange, ever-shifting tone and its spotty dialogue. At one point a character actually utters the sentence, “All I think about is pussy and waffles”. Doesn’t seem like it should be in a poignant commentary about the nation hurling itself into a self-deprecating anarchy, does it?
There’s another ridiculous moment when a little girl (or at least she seems like she’s supposed to appear little by her schoolgirl attire, but the actress playing her must be at least twenty) fixates on a local deli and attacks it relentlessly, and the only motivation she gives is the candy bar she won’t quit yelping about, which she was denied to her earlier in the day.
The whole movie is completely uneven – one moment, it seems like a solid feature that stirs up an important discussion about the slippery slope attached to electing someone like Trump as the leader of the free world, and the next, it’s throwing out ‘80s era action movie one liners and cheering on the deplorable vehemence it was just busy condemning. In fact, when it comes to flip-flopping, no one seems to be more indecisive than Senator Charlie Roan, who welcomes the carnage at the beginning of the film with open arms, only to suddenly take a stand against the bloodshed towards the end. Apparently, the senator’s tendency towards heroism is just as inconsistent as the movie’s anti-violence message.
Also, it’s really weird how given the fact that the senator’s whole reason for ending the Purge is because her whole family was brutally murdered during one of its annual events, that she never mentions her loved ones at all during the entire length of the movie. How is the audience supposed to feel sorry for a woman who appears to be more concerned with winning the next election than avenging those who she has lost?
Overall, despite its shortcomings, the fact that the Purge franchise exists is a good thing, because the truth is it does have an interesting premise and it does have a lot to say about society’s inclination towards violence, and the terror that comes with placing too much power in the hands of elected representatives. It also means that eventually, with additional entries, the series could branch off in new and exciting directions, and perhaps present a clearer and more cohesive storyline to follow. However, although the original Purge creator and writer/director of all three entries, James DeMonaco, is very clever when it comes to dreaming up ideas about what these movies should entail, perhaps it’s time for the Blumhouse regular to step back and hand over the reigns to someone else to take over the screenwriting and directing responsibilities on the next one, while he sticks to conjuring up the basic plot outlines and overseeing the project as a whole.
The Purge: Election Year is now in theaters everywhere.