(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.
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.
"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.