Friday, July 1, 2016
The Purge Election Year feasts on the flesh of a bloody good political thriller.
Review by Matt CummingsAs the nation once again prepares for Purge Night, its “New Founding Fathers of America” are not a happy bunch: there is growing concern that the one-night-a-year bloodfest has been targeting the poor in an effort to keep the costs of welfare and other programs down. Moreover, a new challenge has arisen in the form of Purge survivor Sen. Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who leads a group demanding an end to the event. Desiring to see her growing influence eliminated, the NFFA institutes a new rule: all citizens (including government officials) are now able to be hunted on Purge Night. As dark forces conspire against her, Roan has an ace up her sleeve: her bodyguard/head of security Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), who has relocated from Los Angeles after surviving two years prior. Together with a collection of anti-Purge patriots, Leo and Charlie battle the NFFA and Purge-happy residents to secure permanent change for the nation. The Purge Anarchy was a decided improvement over Director James DeMonaco's 2013 release, serving as merely hunter/hunted fare. Anarchy legitimized the series with Grillo and his backstory, elevating it into franchise no-brainer territory. But while Election Year has many of those same elements of unbridled gore, the film stands as more of a political thriller than a screamer hack-saw, a fact which might take audiences off guard. This is no longer about the specific ways people torture or hunt each other, but a familiar message about the political fracturing that's occurring in our real world. Roan clearly takes the side of Democrat, her views in direct opposition with the NFFA's rather radical Republican tendencies. The result mostly works, although some will leave wondering where their real Purge has gone. Grillo is still very effective, but his role is limited to defender/protector: we see flashes of the tormented Leo from Anarchy, but he's now a clearly different - and I'd say better - person. But this is no longer about him: The Purge Election Year works mostly because of Mitchell, who survived a Purge from 18 years ago, wants to see America returned to a sense of normalcy. But she's more than the do-gooder: she's matured into a leader that smells corruption at the center of the murderous night, which makes her fiercely likeable. She and Grillo have immediate chemistry, a familiarity that feels like it goes back years. It never runs aground or gets stale, which helps to prop up other issues from which the film suffers. The Purge Election Year has always been B-movie thriller, content to exist in an alternate world where ultra-violence is the name of the game. That sort of wanton destruction immediately appealed to the audience, but this new script by DeMonaco falls into a predictable pattern. We know Charlie will face several assassination attempts - including the moderately effective climax - and that Leo and his new-found friends will somehow win the day. That forces it into a tightly-confined pattern of cat-mouse, but again it's the performances that keep us going. There is just enough character development by Leo's 'crew' - including Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson) as a shop owner, his loyal immigrant employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and friend Laney (Betty Gabriel) - to empathize with their reasons not to purge without getting on a soapbox to convince us. They too are very likeable and play an effective and devastating team. But anyone looking for either incredible violence or superior storytelling will need to look elsewhere: those are just not in Election Year's DNA. DeMonaco knows what he has here, and makes the most out of a concept that could have lost steam by now. And while the ending suggests we have one more film to look forward to, I'd pay to see more, particularly if Mitchell and Grillo return. The Purge Election Year might not wow you with the incredible cycles of violence that made the previous films so rewarding, but it's better for seeking a balance as the franchise itself feels like it's maturing right in front of us. The comparisons to our current political fracturing are almost too spot on, reminding us that good film can serve as mirror into our society and a warning about class conflict in a time where our own values are undergoing radical redesign. The Purge Election Year is rated R for disturbing bloody violence and strong language and has a runtime of 105 minutes. Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.