Wednesday, July 6, 2016

In Theaters: THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR (2016)

(US - 2016)

Written and directed by James DeMonaco. Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Edwin Hodge, Betty Gabriel, Kyle Secor, Raymond J. Barry, Terry Serpico, Joseph Julian Soria, Lisa Colon-Zayas, Christopher James Baker, Ethan Phillips, David Aaron Baker, Brittany Mirabile. (R, 109 mins)

The latest installment in the most political of today's horror franchises, one that depicts a near-future where the New Founding Fathers have created "Purge Night," the one night a year when murder is legal for 12 hours. What was supposed to placate the nation's rage has turned into literal class warfare, with the rich hunting the poor. THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR takes advantage of the most ludicrously surreal election season in America's history to represent the DEATH WISH 3-ification of the series. These films, all written and directed by James DeMonaco, have always worn their politics on their sleeve, and after the furious anger of the superior first sequel, THE PURGE: ANARCHY, DeMonaco cranks the absurdity to new heights here. It's easy to look metaphorically at the world presented in THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR and see it as a harbinger of what a Trump nation would conceivably look like, but the film is so over-the-top and filled with gaping logic holes that, unlike THE PURGE: ANARCHY, it's impossible to take seriously for a moment. Indeed, this film's depiction of the dystopian urban hellscape of Washington, DC makes ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK look like a Norman Rockwell painting.

Taking place several years after the events of ANARCHY, ELECTION YEAR gives us two presidential candidates--liberal Sen. Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who wants to abolish the annual killfest since her family was wiped out during a Purge Night 18 years ago, and the far-right conservative, evangelical, New Founding Fathers-endorsed Rev. Eldridge Owens (Kyle Secor), a talking points-spouting, sermonizing stooge who's the puppet of NFF leader Caleb Warrens (Raymond J. Barry), who's introduced vowing to take out "that cunt Senator." The Purge is sold as the American way, but half the nation is vehemently against it, and Warrens and his high-ranking cohorts push legislation through Congress that changes the rules regarding elected officials. Previously protected from being Purge Night targets, they're now fair game in what's a transparent attempt to goad their acolytes into killing Roan. Against the wishes of her chief of security Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), the lone-wolf hero of ANARCHY-turned-Secret Service agent here, Roan takes a stand with the average American and against the Purge and spends the night in her own fortified home instead of going to an underground government bunker. Of course, Barnes is the only honest agent on the payroll, as everyone else is in cahoots with the NFF, allowing white supremacist militia leader Earl Danzinger (Terry Serpico) and his team of mercenaries with Confederate flag and white power patches on their uniforms into the house to apprehend Roan and take her to a secret location to be sacrificed by the cult-like NFF. She escapes with Barnes, and they're on the street on their own to survive the night. They eventually meet up with neighborhood deli owner Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson), his Mexican immigrant employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) and their neighborhood activist friend and former gang leader Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel), who drives around the area with Dawn (Lisa Colon-Zayas) as a volunteer EMT team helping those in need.

DeMonaco keeps things fast-moving and incredibly violent as the ragtag group makes their way from one nightmarish set piece to another, dealing with everything from a crew of obnoxious schoolgirls who want revenge against Joe and Laney for kicking them out of the deli when they were caught shoplifting, to a group of vacationing "murder tourists" who come from all over the globe to take part in the legal killing spree. Later on, they're taken in by anti-Purge activist Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge), the hunted man reluctantly given refuge by Ethan Hawke's family in the first PURGE film, who now leads a group of people determined to assassinate Owens and all of the New Founding Fathers (note to Trump supporters--the New Founding Fathers are supposed to be the villains) at their Purge prayer group at a nearby church. And there's just one rather idiotic element of ELECTION YEAR. Even something like the PURGE franchise needs to stick to its own internal logic, which it fails to do here ("I can't believe we're on the street again," Roan tells Barnes at one point; you'll likely concur). The Purge lasts from 7:00 pm to 7:00 am (apparently, the New Founding Fathers have also done away with time zones). If anyone is fair game now that government officials aren't protected, why would the NFF risk transporting a bunch of their top people and their families to a church service in mid-Purge? And if anyone is fair game, why would people be out picking up the corpses and keeping the streets clean during the Purge? Couldn't that wait until after 7:00 am? I get that Laney and Dawn are concerned citizens driving their own EMT truck and risking their lives as volunteers, but are these clean-up guys other Purgers? Are they city sanitation workers? If so, are they at least getting paid overtime? And while I get that Joe would want to protect his deli from Purgers and vandals, does it make any sense that he'd position himself on the roof of his establishment and start pounding beers, completely oblivious to all of the taller apartment buildings surrounding him from which a sniper could easily take him out?  And if the Purge is legal, why all the garish costumes? There's no need to disguise yourself. DeMonaco tries to explain that away by having one mask salesman cackle "It's Halloween for adults!" but it still doesn't make any sense. Has DeMonaco been out on Halloween lately?  Halloween is Halloween for adults. Here's an idea: schedule the Purge on Halloween but the only targets can be grown-ass adults who still go trick-or-treating and don't even wear costumes. There's something we can all get behind.

THE PURGE: ANARCHY at least felt plausible as an angry, socially-conscious B-movie, but THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR is a completely unbelievable cartoon (though the end credits rolling to David Bowie's "I'm Afraid of Americans" is a nice touch). There's no subtlety here whatsoever, but in a way, that's reflective of the politics of today. ELECTION YEAR deals in absolutes. Those fearful of a Trump victory often joke that he'll turn the country into a MAD MAX wasteland, so it's only natural that a franchise with such a liberal-leaning agenda would present that scenario as a reflection of the times. ELECTION YEAR is overblown and heavy-handed, lacking the gritty edge of ANARCHY (by far the best in this series so far) and suffering from a change in attitude for hero Barnes. In ANARCHY, he was a stoical badass that you could get behind, but here, he's pretty much a total dick, while Williamson's Joe and Gabriel's Laney emerge as the most likable heroes. Joe risks his ass for Roan too many times for Barnes to continuously question his motives and derisively refer to him as "Deli Man," seeming more concerned with his own butthurt ego than he is with the Senator's safety. The most prescient moment of ELECTION YEAR is the final shot with a news anchor voiceover, which basically suggests a preview of what's likely to happen at the Republican National Convention. Here's to hoping DeMonaco is already at work on his script for THE PURGE: MEDIUM COOL.

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