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‘The Purge’ Finds A Winning Vote In Aptly-Titled ‘Election Year’ (Movie Review)

the purge election thumbThere is something to admire in The Purge franchise that has stemmed from a singular voice, writer/director James DeMonaco. This twisted franchise has not been my favorite, but it has been influenced by topical subject matter that now pushes this latest entry, The Purge: Election Year, to a point that almost feels plausible. Some audiences can still be entertained by the over-the-top antics of this film universe’s annual event, but for a horror series to further embrace its social science fiction ideas and turn its subtext into text, I can extend a level of admiration.

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The premise of these films has revolved around an event known as The Purge, one 12-hour period occurring one night every year, in which all crime, including murder, is legal. I have been personally intrigued and flabbergasted by the logic of this concept, which took away from whatever positives these films (mainly the second, Anarchy) had to offer. However, Election Year heads in a new direction. The plotline holds onto the expanded scope from Anarchy, but still manages to contain the key narrative. As a result, I was less concerned with the logic of how an event like this could work and more pleased to entertain how this particular story plays out.

Frank Grillo returns as Leo Barnes, who has left his LA-based revenge quest and is now the head of security for U.S. Senator Charlene Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), the front runner for President who is set on eliminating The Purge. Charlie is given a tragic backstory seen in the cold open of the film, where her family was slaughtered in front of her on a Purge-night 18 years earlier. It’s effective table setting, as the rest of the characters we meet are likable, to be fair, but a combination of poor characterizations that represent the minority groups this film is fighting for.

For all the work done by DeMonaco to put together a stylized genre film depicting a scenario where the rich, white 1% has found a final solution approach to having what is mainly minorities, poor and unprivileged taking out each other, it is irritating to still have to get through a setup where Mykelti Williamson’s character needs to speak jive. The opening act of this film cuts back and forth between the Senator and another group of innocents, who will all eventually wind up together. Credit goes to The Purge for being another example of genre films being the best place to find minority and female lead characters, but it’s still hard to see poorly written and badly acted sequences serving as setup.

Purge: Assassins

To its credit, the middle section of this film works best, as the characters are a likable bunch that come into their own. The plotting involves how the Senator and Leo meet up with Williamson and his ragtag group. Since there are powerful business men and politicians who depend on The Purge, ending it is not at all in their favor, leading to an assassination attempt on the Senator. This means the films serves as an escort mission, allowing Grillo to go from Punisher mode to video game hero, as he attempts to survive the night and protect his charge at all costs.

DeMonaco does well by the budget he has, with the apparent encouragement from Blumhouse Productions and Platinum Dunes to go all out with his social commentary. It means there is plenty for fans going in for simple genre-film satisfaction and those with a desire for more meat on the bones of their horror/thrillers. While not a film that makes you feel comfortable with the violence, there is a visceral level to the proceedings that is handled with a dark sense of humor at some points, but never in a way that celebrates the mayhem on display.

The Purge series has come a long way since the 2013 film, which played more like a home invasion film that got around how to not involve the cops. Anarchy blew the world open and created a satirical thriller by way of Grand Theft Auto. Election Year is more of that, but with a focus that I could appreciate. It has some shoddy moments and laughable dialogue, but it does well in blending topicality with the most horrific parts of a haunted maze. That’s enough to make one get out and see a film take shots at what we hope America will never become.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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