Movie Review: “The Purge: Election Year” – Capitol Punishment

Written by Jeremiah Greville July 06, 2016

The Purge: Election Year

So, yeah. Purge. Good ol’ Purge, eh?

I’ll say it right now: if you liked either of the previous movies in the series, you’ll probably find something to like in this one. But if either of those left you feeling cold and lifeless—hey, like a victim of the Purge!—then you’re probably better served skipping this year’s Purge entirely.

The Purge: Election Year is the third movie in the Purge series, following 2013’s The Purge, and it’s sequel, 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy. Each movie in the series has escalated the action and introduced new ideas to the Purge universe, where for one night a year in the United States all crime is legalized in an effort to ‘purge’ citizens of violent thoughts and tendencies. Frank Castle—er, Frank Grillo returns as Leo Barnes, reprising his punishing role from the previous film in the series. This time he’s protecting White House hopeful Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a senator vocally opposed to the annual Purge. They’re joined by lovable shop owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson), his assistant Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and medical volunteer Laney (Betty Gabriel) as they fight to keep the senator alive, and their souls intact.

“We have one goal right now. Survival”

While the first movie in the series was the claustrophobic tale of a wealthy family besieged by their neighbours, and the second was absolutely-I-don’t-care-what-you-say a Punisher movie set during the Purge, this third film comes the closest to being a political allegory. Let me be clear here: it comes close, but it isn’t. Though it strives to say something about the state of politics, power, and racism in modern America, this film is still serving two masters: the higher ideals and ambitions of its political message, and the low-brow splatter-porn that audiences crave, and have come to expect. Commendably, the film does better on both fronts than you might expect, but ultimate suffers under the weight of directionless storytelling. Are we supposed to enjoy the Purge antics or be horrified at them (or at ourselves?). The Purge: Election Year seems to want it both ways, but doesn’t do enough to let us know just where it stands.

The Purge: Election Year - Frank Grillo & Elizabeth Mitchell

Considering the subtitle, it’s safe to say that, yes, there are allusions to this year’s contentious American election. Amidst all of the carnage of the annual Purge, this story is primarily about a progressive blonde female candidate versus an over-zealous, wealthy, racist male candidate. However the film has less to say about American politics than it does about the wealthy and powerful in general. In final act, we see just how nuts those with power can get, as the ‘New Founding Fathers’ take part in a laughably ridiculous ceremony to celebrate the Purge. Seriously, rich people—you crazy.

“The soul of our country is at stake”

A lot of the good ideas on display in this movie—haves versus have-nots, rich versus poor, black versus white—are brushed aside for the simple narrative of killer versus victim. Most of the violence we see in the background of this movie, and most of the violence that’s used to shock and prompt us, is between those participating in the annual Purge, and those not. There’s a strange disconnect within the movie universe when you see a group of ‘Purgers’ working together to kill innocent people, yet never turning on each other or facing similar groups. The world of the Purge is one in which you either play the game, or become victim to it. While on the surface this approach seems to bolster and support the underlying narrative of the rich using the Purge to cull the poor and working class, it falls apart when you realize that not everyone taking part is rich—why are they following a memo they never received? Shouldn’t some poor Purgers predictably take their frustration out on the rich and powerful? This is hand-waved away in this and previous movies, but ‘Level 10’ protections and expensive security doors aren’t enough to play this off completely. Motivations for Purging come down to ostensibly being good or evil in this universe, undercutting the central and most fascinating question of the Purge universe—what would you do on Purge night, and why?

“The only way I can win is to risk everything”

The all out class warfare on display in the The Purge: Election Year goes from prescient to silly to tone-deaf and back again. We can see today just how much power the elite have over the working class, and how insidious and far-reaching class struggle and racism are all over the world, yet some of the most well-intentioned writing in this film is awfully tone-deaf. Having a bunch of black characters take out a militaristic white power squad is wonderfully cathartic. Having a black character refer to that same group coming at him as if they were coming at a ‘bucket of chicken’ is anything but. It’s clear that this script was written by a white guy who meant the best, but is yet another example of how more POC voices are needed behind the camera as well.

The Purge: Election Year - Main Cast

For fans of the series, I’m happy to say that Edwin Hodge reprises his role from the previous entries, continuing the evolution of his character, now named Dante Bishop. As the only cast member to appear in all three films, it’s a shame that he doesn’t get more of a focus throughout. While this is arguably his biggest role in the series, it’s still secondary to the central white protagonists. Other standouts include Brittany Mirabile’s psychotic schoolgirl on a quest for candy-stoked revenge, and Betty Gabriel as Laney, the medical volunteer with a violent past. Gabriel’s performance is a highlight of the film, as she goes from funny to caring to bad-ass without ever losing sight of her character’s core appeal. The franchise would be well-served with her as the lead of a potential fourth film.

“I want my candy bar!”

With no future films in the series officially planned, this year’s Purge might be our last. Though I’ve spent a lot of time going over the film’s flaws, I must reiterate what I said at the outset: if you liked the other movies in this series, you’ll probably like this one. It has enough of the same thrills and cathartic violence that fans of the series have come to expect, with a welcome helping of social commentary as well. While it ultimately fails to live up the lofty goals it sets itself, The Purge: Election Year still provides enough lurid visuals and violent thrills to stoke the id and keep us sedated for another year (at least!). Just what a good Purge should do.

My Rating: 6.5/10

The Purge: Election Year - Theatrical Poster

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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