Mark Reviews Movies

The Purge: Election Year


1 Ĺ Stars (out of 4)

Director: James DeMonaco

Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Betty Gabriel, Joseph Julian Soria, Edwin Hodge, Terry Serpico, Raymond J. Barry

MPAA Rating: R (for disturbing bloody violence and strong language)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 7/1/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 30, 2016

The Purge: Election Year proves that the political undercurrent of the movie's world is best left implied, leaving it to us to figure out how this system works and why it is as sinister as it is. The third movie in the series explicates the way that a corrupt government, run by a wealthy cult of religious and nationalist fundamentalists, has created a system in which the poor are eliminated by means of an annual, national half-day of lawlessness.

The concept made just enough sense in the previous two movies that it didn't seem too outlandish. Part of that was because those movies only had the rationale as background noise or as the hollow setup for the plot. This entry not only states the logic outright in such a way that it bypasses "questionable" and enters into the realm of downright silliness, but it also appears to believe that it has a cutting and relevant thing or two to say about the state of the real world. The problem is that the movie only has a thing or maybe two to say, and it keeps saying that thing or that pair of things over and over again, without making much of an effort to generate those connections.

These have never been movies that really care about the politics of its near-future dystopia, and they have always ended up being more hypocritical than incisive. The entire premise is based on the notion that violence for its own sake is a corrupting measure, yet every movie has found a way to condone and even glorify violence, as long as it's being done by the right people and against the wrong ones.

Even the first movie, which at least dealt with the consequences of the premise by putting a family of ordinary people in a moral dilemma between survival and doing the right thing for a complete stranger, eventually used and celebrated violence as a means of salvation. That's basically the same argument used by the government regime. "Purge and purify," they chant, urging citizens to save themselves by killing threats to their way of life. It's tough to escape the movie's hypocrisy when we get hero shots of the protagonists calmly mowing down the bad guys with automatic weapons or destroying a young woman's face with a close-range shotgun blast.

The third entry in the series follows the example of the second one, in that it finds a group of people wandering the streets of a city and trying to survive on Purge Night. It also possesses the same inherent contradiction of the series as a whole. The only difference is that the city is Washington, D.C., while the villains are explicitly the creators and managers of the system.

It's the most overtly political movie of the bunch. That makes it the most disappointing and vexing one, too, because the premise of this plot is perfectly situated to take advantage of the series' political potential (The real-world timing, during an election cycle in which a presidential candidate essentially has condoned and endorsed violence against his detractors, is an added, perhaps undue level of pressure).

Instead, we just get more of the sameómore extreme violence, more excessive bloodletting, more hollow characters who state the obvious political points the movie tries to make, more running and hiding and shooting, more people in masks jumping into frame to do terrible things. The story that gets us there involves Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), whose entire family was killed on Purge Night 18 years ago. She's running as an independent candidate for President, and the leader (Raymond J. Barry) of the New Founding Fathers has decided to use this year's Purge as a way to eliminate the competition.

Leo (Frank Grillo), the protagonist of the previous movie, is Roan's chief of security, and it's up to him to protect the senator. Joe (Mykelti Williamson), the owner of a local deli, and Laney (Betty Gabriel), a reformed gangster, help out with a few of their friends.

Returning writer/director James DeMonaco seems to have run out of ideas, as he attempts to bolster the movie's rehashing of the formulaic chase plot with imagery of twisted patriotism ("purgers" dressed in red, white, and blue terrorize our heroes), revolution (One group goes to the trouble of building a guillotine for their "fun"), and chaos (The Lincoln Memorial is desecrated with bloody graffiti and a pile of burning bodies, and there are a few, loaded helicopter shots of the capital ablaze). Beyond their two-facedness, the movie's action scenes are indiscernible on account of DeMonaco's gloomy, fast-cutting technique. The Purge: Election Year, then, isn't just thematically insincere. It's also technically ineffectual.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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