At some point during the production of The Purge: Election Year, somebody important realised how ridiculous the film’s premise actually was. Just how far can you take the idea of America legalizing crime for one night a year? The deranged sentiment has widened its scope with every new entry into the trilogy, increasing the terror and influence, forcing the audience into cheap thrills by upping the stakes with each subsequent film. Beginning with the relatively simple proposition of a single family torn apart by Purge night, the series then transitioned into the second film where we instead discover the external, and far-fetched, impact that the purge has had on society as a whole. Now here is The Purge: Election Year, a timely title, which constantly reminds us that “the soul of this country is at stake” and has flipped the series from political horror to outright satire.
In the year 2025, the American people seem to have finally begun to have second thoughts about the usefulness of the annual Purge. Senator Roan, played with a calm certainty by Elizabeth Mitchell, has built a campaign around ending the purge and is close to stealing victory from her rival, who some are comparing to Republican presidential hopeful/maniac Donald Trump (though he could really be any slimy white politician from the annals of film history). This initiates the government to now pass a law making sure nobody is exempt from the purge of 2025, allowing them to get rid of Roan once and for all as she holes up in her home in Washington DC. What they didn’t count on was Purge survivor Leo Barnes, a quite magnetic Frank Grillo, being employed as her Head of Security and a group of ethnic do-gooders, so cliche that it could be considered racist, helping her survive the night.
Like the previous film, the script makes the most of its premise and delivers some fairly memorable set pieces, which is really all it wants to do. Washington becomes a battleground of depravity and the worms that feast away on the city’s underbelly come out to enjoy the night, including, but not limited to, a blood-soaked hen party, a barbarous crew of Crips and, of course, the classic upper class elite murder party. Cars covered in fairly lights roam through the night and guillotine executions are performed in alleyways stained with viscera. All pretty thrilling but the problem is that writer/director James DeMonaco just doesn’t have very much style at all. In fact, the film looks ugly and not in a deliberate, retro-nostalgia manner. For all its ideas and creativity, it falls flat in a visual sense and there is an over reliance on concept that becomes so obvious, especially in the film’s latter stages, that you can’t help but feel a Carpenter-esque throwback would have given the story something to cling onto instead of badly choreographed shoot-outs and the occasional jump scare.
However, it would be wrong to deny the film is mostly quite enjoyable and this is primarily down to the acceptance of its B-movie roots. No longer does The Purge series strive for serious political allegory; it is now a fully-fledged parody, a film so rife with authentic trashiness that you want to find out where it will go next. Characters chew scenery with such gusto and force that they either purposefully hired terrible actors or DeMonaco was smart enough to coax a subtly bad performance out of them. Some of the lines feel like they fall somewhere between The Warriors and Ed Wood. Though what makes The Purge: Election Year so interesting, and in a way quite unique, is that it isn’t just another horror satire; it is a satire of bad films, bad concepts and the need to milk everything you possibly can out of a low-brow concept. It is almost inevitable that the next entry in the series (Space Purge?) will be an all out comedy if the series continues its simple, effective progression.
The Purge: Election Year is out on the 26th August in UK cinemas.