This embrace of a social conscience wasn’t opportunistic, exactly; the Rod Serling–esque concept of a society sanctioned to go mad was always there. But DeMonaco clearly understood what made this series singular. So now, the third film, The Purge: Election Year, consciously foregrounds what once was blunt subtext: It’s a movie about how the Purge is wrong, wrong, wrong. As such, it packs less of a punch; the writer/director has a lot to say, but this neo-grindhouse framework isn’t built for complexity. Still, the film is just bonkers enough to work.
At the center of the new tale is Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a presidential candidate who wants to end the tradition of Purge Night. (Her whole family
As the annual orgy of bloodletting begins, the restrictions against killing high-level government officials are unexpectedly lifted, rendering Charlie fair game. After one brutal assassination attempt, she and Leo find themselves out in the streets, where they hide out with wise-cracking bodega owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson), who is trying to protect his store against a group of glassy-eyed, bloodthirsty ... um, schoolgirls. But, like, they’re really crazy, really mean schoolgirls, and they have bedazzled AK-47s and cars tricked out with Christmas lights, and they playfully slap each other’s butts with flyswatters.
As in the previous film, there’s a scrappy, underground anti-Purge movement, this
It’s telling, of course, that most of the folks opposing the Purge are African-American or Hispanic, and that the powers that be are all lily-white. There’s nothing understated about the movie’s politics: The New Founding Fathers’ shock troops wear uniforms festooned with white power patches and Confederate flags; their leader has swastika tattoos. We’re told at one point that the Purge mainly serves to kill off the poor and line the pockets of the NRA. In TV news footage showing foreign tourists coming to the U.S. for “murder tourism,” one South African white guy starts yelling at the camera in Afrikaans. The only thing missing is a “Make America Great Hat,” but who knows, maybe I just missed it amid all the gunfire and explosions.
Unsubtle politics don't equal clear politics, of course. But as with other Purge movies, Election Year knows that it’s having its cake and eating it, too: luxuriating in the violence while explicitly denouncing it. In Anarchy, this two-
This time, however, the director seems to hold Purge Night at a distance: He presents us with plenty of ghoulish and bizarre sights, not to mention gruesome violence. But it all feels like it’s being played for maximum strangeness, thus lessening its visceral impact. By contrast, the sights and sounds of the earlier films felt like monsters from our collective Id, disturbingly familiar and compelling. Ironically, DeMonaco is releasing this new one into a real-life political environment of unnerving tension and gonzo theatricality — but in some weird way, the previous films felt more prescient than this new one.
If The Purge: Election Year is ultimately still engaging, it’s