“I’ve had it with these idealistic pigs!” snarls evil Founding Father Caleb Warrens (Raymond J Barry) as he sips whisky and plots the death of progressive senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell).
That – and the two c-bombs he drops – is some indication of the subtlety that The Purge: Election Year, the third film in James DeMonaco’s all-crime-is-legal-for-one-night-a-year series, is packing. It’s twice as political, but also twice as daft, resulting in a film that is both impressively ferocious in its agenda and suffering from a cliché-ridden script.
After surviving a Purge Night trauma as a child, Roan is now running for president on a campaign that’s centred on banning it for good. Her head of security, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), has his hands full when she decides to stay home on Purge Night, and when government-funded mercenaries storm the place, the two must take to the streets in order to survive the night.
It’s quite bracing to see a genre film place its politics front and centre, but DeMonaco’s nifty ideas (Purge Night funding the NRA, tourists visiting the US for one night of legal killing, a weird midnight Purge Mass) are better than his dialogue, which even veterans like Mykelti Williamson have a hard time selling. It’s also extremely hypocritical: yes, murder is awful, but check out this teenage girl getting her face blown off with a shotgun.
This series has always been caught between having its cake and eating it, and the formula worked nicely in the 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy, but when nothing is left to subtext, it’s hard to ignore what’s staring you in the face. That being said, DeMonaco continues to create some horrifying and haunting images of a city purging, there are some decent scares, Grillo is as great as ever, and Betty Gabriel (Experimenter) impresses.
It’s just a shame that the dialogue and plotting can’t match the message and the jolts of well-executed genre thrills. It’s bold and kind of fun, but this is a step down from Anarchy.