“Purge and purify!”
From the low-budget original to the more ambitious sequels, the Purge franchise has done a lot with the silly premise that in near-future America, the government has set aside one night a year where all crime, including murder, is legal. It’s the kind of idea that sounds cool at first, but seems more ridiculous the more you think about it. The same is generally true of the films. 2013’s The Purge is a home invasion thriller set against that “murder night” backdrop. Focused and character-driven, the film sold the conceit somewhat short, but it was a huge success. The second film, The Purge: Anarchy moved beyond suburban walls to show audiences what “Purge Night” is like out on the streets. It’s a better, if messier, movie. The third movie, The Purge: Election Year splits the difference between the focused original and sprawling sequel. Like Anarchy, it takes place mostly in the street, but instead of following regular folks in peril it pulls back the curtain on the internal political struggle between government officials desperate to maintain the bloody status quo and an upstart presidential candidate running on a platform to end the purge once and for all. It’s silly, hamfisted, ridiculous, and nasty — but no more so than the actual presidential election we’re suffering through right now.
After two Purge movies you pretty much know whether you want to experience another overnight bloodbath. Election Year doesn’t add anything new to the formula. The third movie has broad social commentary like the others, except this time writer-director James DeMonaco expends his satirical energy on the intersection between government and religion, the extreme lengths politicians are willing to go to maintain power, and racial politics.
The Purge: Anarchy introduced the character of Leo Barnes, played by Frank Grillo. He returns as the hero in Election Year, gone from out-for-revenge father to Secret Service agent tasked with protecting opposition candidate Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) after the leaders of the “New Founding Fathers” change the Purge Night law that prohibits attacks on government officials. Leo’s job becomes that much harder when he discovers that the rest of his team is secretly working for the Fathers. Instead of thugs with shotguns they are being chased by black ops teams carrying high-tech weapons. Along the way they meet another group out to survive the night: a local shopkeeper (Mykelti Williamson), his employee (Joseph Julian Soria), and a former badass turned neighborhood matriarch (Betty Gabriel).
The Purge movies are best when the violence is impersonal — roving killers terrorizing strangers because no one will stop them. That’s scary. It’s less frightening when the players are the ones pulling the strings. The government angle of Election Year feels more like a thriller than horror. These are folks with agendas making power plays. The New Founding Fathers believe the malarkey about the restorative power of legalized murder but at the end of the day they are in it to weed out the poor and shore up political power. Which is one of the problems with the film. Without spoiling how it ends, the world DeMonaco has built over three movies doesn’t seem like one where a candidate promising to end the purge would have a shot at winning — especially when the folks most likely to vote for her have been killed off.
The Purge: Election Year doesn’t offer many surprises in the A/V department. The 2.40:1 1080p transfer benefits from the digital source. It’s clean and crisp, with deep blood reds and decent shadow detail in the many, many, many night scenes. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio falls somewhere in the middle of modern Blu-ray mixes. During the talky scenes the audio is mostly front and center, with booming rear effects and bass reserved for explosive action.
Election Year comes with a variety of ways to watch the movie, with bonus DVD and digital copies along with the Blu-ray. It’s a nice add for fans of flexibility, but doesn’t make up for the paltry on-disc extras:
Deleted Scenes (8:08): Six bonus scenes, some of which are just extended versions of material that made it into the final film, including final preparations at Senator Roan’s house, and a longer Purge Night montage.
“Inside The Purge” (5:30): Cast, crew, and writer/director DeMonaco discuss what has changed and what’s stayed the same for this third Purge movie.
“Character Spotlight: Leo” (3:33): Frank Grillo’s Leo gets the only character-specific bonus feature. He talks about how his character has changed from the previous, and staging the amped up action.
Even with its problems, The Purge: Election Year is goofy fun that brings this loose trilogy to some kind of end. It’s the least of the three, but I appreciate DeMonaco’s desire to make each film about a slightly different aspect of this most illogical holiday. His satire isn’t subtle, but the gory action makes up for laughably broad background characters (this film’s sweet-tooth psycho teens and Eurotrash “murder tourists” are next-level bad). If you can get past the conceit — and given the popularity of superhero and young adult fantasy movie adaptations, it shouldn’t be too hard — there are worse ways to spend election year. Especially this election year..