The Purge is quite a silly and dumb premise for a franchise but at least is unique in its overt political agenda. The first film that acted on a micro level, examined how one upper middle class family profited from the 12 hour murder holiday yet pretended to be impartial till a victim ended up on their doorstep who they felt compelled to protect. It was a home invasion movie with a sci-fi twist. Anarchy expanded following multiple characters on the streets of Downtown LA. It had its anti 1% message and was mostly involved with those in the lower class and how an entire city approaches the night. In Election Year the universe is widened even farther encompassing the politicians that keep this system in place. Mirroring a similar format to the second film we’re back on the burning streets, now Washington DC as we follow some unlucky few but mostly fervent activist trying to put an end to this bloody tradition.
I’ll first of all state this is far from being a great film. It’s not a horror movie as much as it’s a gore fest. A dystopian Grand Theft Auto which gives me mixed feelings since the focus is how destructive this night of violence is yet it’s also the draw of the entire movie. You’re going to watch a bloodbath of everyday people who on this one day can opt to kill their parents (yes, in this universe people murder their family very flippantly.) You fall into a quagmire as those who don’t wish to purge still must use violence to keep it so like the B story line of Joe (Mykelti Williamson) whose whole lively hood is his deli which he must protect from looters, primarily disgruntled teen shoplifters. Like Anarchy, Election Year shows both those small scale grudges that beget violence plus the more massive scale corruption and exploitation of the rich and powerful who kill the poor in a more sport like fashion. As this franchise has never known to be subtle, it greatly hones in on the Nazism similarities in the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) who are the evil political movement that started the Purge in the first place. From the flags with black cross symbols, to evoking the phrase “purify” to employing Neo Nazis to hunt down the anti Purge Senator Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), it is laying it on thick that there is only hate and institutionalized racism as a motivation for keeping this night in place.
I’ve been charmed by the series to an extent by its radicalism. The film sees its self as subversive in the political realm, taking down parties that suppress and wish to push out the poor. I see it as more impressive that these are sequels with a higher level of diversity than found in most horror or mainstream films. Weirdly enough Anarchy has a more positive portrayal of people of color as arguably the two main characters are a lower class mother and daughter (played by Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul). Here the narrative is trying to balance two storylines, one being the Senator on the run who is being protected by her head of security Leo (Frank Grillo reprising his role) both who are white and the other being the community that centers around Joe’s Deli, many who are implied to be former gang members who have turned their life around. It enters some uncomfortable territory as this is written and directed by James DeMonaco who has Mykelti Williamson’s Joe as a similarly folksy black man as his Bubba Gump character and his loyal employee Marcos played by Joseph Julian Soria (who I loved in Hamlet 2) as a Mexican immigrant who says things like “in Juarez, everyday is like the Purge”. Lines like that and Joe saying “my negro” are cringeworthy and I can only hope was improvised by the consenting actors.
After that slight rant I’d have to say Anarchy is the best of the series as Election Year is a retread, it even has the same plot point of having the resourceful underground rebel group but couldn’t get Michael K. Williams to come back. The political spin on it is enough to give motivation of why an unarmed person would find themselves in survival mode on the dangerous streets. If the studio doesn’t push for a fourth this could be a mildly satisfying ending that the reign of the Purge has come to an end. Besides diversity in casting the series doesn’t have much to offer aside from creepy masks which has been its primary selling point. There’s some appeal if you like knock off Mad Max armored vehicles and gun violence, otherwise it’s a perfect time to put this holiday to rest. So you know, Happy 4th!