Writer and director James DeMonaco returns to the world of exaggerated violence and questionable moral codes for the third instalment in his action-horror series with The Purge: Election Year. Re-teaming with Frank Grillo, but adding Forrest Gump's Mykelti Williamson and Elizabeth Mitchell to the mix, does his latest survive unscathed?
Two years have passed since Leo Barnes (Grillo) spared the man responsible for his son's death and now, the former police sergeant works as the head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Mitchell). However, his skills on the job get pushed to the max on Purge Night, as Roan's passionate and public vow to abolish the Purge if she is elected makes her the target of an assassination attempt.
There's something uncomfortably ironic about a franchise that presents a world where the villains are modern-day, upper class citizens who revel in the violence inflicted upon those lower down the pecking order, and who profit and benefit from those less fortunate getting offended, when the films themselves turn each and every audience member into a voyeur. When the plot falls flat in Election Year – which it unfortunately often does - you find yourself subconsciously waiting for the next on-screen death, oddly hoping that it will be more grandiose than the one shown earlier.
Okay, so what they're watching is supposedly real life and we're all too aware that we're watching a movie but it can't help but make you feel a little rotten when you're sitting there scoffing and frowning at people cheering someone's murder when you're essentially doing the same... and almost laughing when an obnoxious, machine gun-wielding teen gets mowed down by a truck. But if you can accept that uneasy feeling, then The Purge: Election Year will certainly not let you down.
There's no denying that it ups the ante from both the first and second movies, with elaborate death scenes scattered throughout featuring archaic guillotines set up on street corners and gangs hosting 'fight-to-the-death' parties, just because they can. But it's not just the gratuitous violence the film takes to extremes but the character development too, which somewhat benefits the storytelling.
Mitchell's Roan arc is probably the most significant, a woman driven in her political career by a personal tragedy (which is where the film begins) and an attempt to put an end to the horrors that occur in the US every single March 21st. It also makes for a welcome change given that we've already seen the vastly different experiences of a middle class family and a group of working class people face the dangers of the Purge, we now see a governmental figure do the same.
Unsurprisingly (and much like in the previous movies), the main cast remain the movie's saving grace with commendable performances from Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson and of course, Grillo. Mitchell presents a much more human character than we've seen before in The Purge series, and there's actually a backstory as to why she's so compassionate which is refreshing. But underneath that soft exterior, she also has a toughness about her that comes out every time Grillo's Barnes tries to act like the 'big boss...' It's just a shame she's never actually allowed to save the day though... Oh yes, the damsel-in-distress trope is certainly utilised to the fullest here.
Almost in complete juxtaposition, Barnes remains somewhat of a mystery once again but proves himself a Purge Night master nonetheless, besting murderous crazies left, right and centre and providing audiences with many opportunities to punch the air in victory. (Honestly). Joseph Julian Soria often steals a scene as quietly comedic and optimistic Marcos while Betty Gabriel is also great as not-to-be-messed with triage-patrol volunteer Laney, however, given the size of the ensemble, she's significantly underused.
Williamson rounds off the five leads, offering up most of the film's comic relief. He lands every humourous line with ease - even if they are a little too reliant on race gags and come across as repetitive. Despite this, Williamson's warm delivery makes for a likeable character all the same, enabling the audience to feel enough of a connection to those on screen that they care what happens to them.
Let it be said though; The Purge is ridiculous. Not necessarily as a movie but as a concept, there's no denying that fact and therefore, it's a pretty hard franchise to judge as a whole. Regardless however, Election Year undoubtedly delivers what viewers want; violence, relatively decent characters and an opportunity to imagine how well they'd fare themselves in the same situation.
The first two instalments polarised audiences, with some viewers preferring the tense, less predictable nature of the original while others liked the action-packed and ever-so-slightly more political second movie. At the end of the day, it's all subjective, but with its eerie tone and macabre humour, the first got our vote in the tops stakes. Fortunately, Election Year manages to mix aspects of what worked in both to create an overall enjoyable movie. Although, you can't help but think when the credits roll: "Universal Pictures, you really should leave it at that. It is getting a tad monotonous."