“The Purge: Election Year” – Contentious, divisive and combative are three words to accurately portray the United States presidential primaries and general election campaigns in 2016. Just turning on the television to cable news programs or peaking at political posts on social media might require a meditative count to 10, a trip to the spa or a calming yoga class to help lower one’s blood pressure. Already, emotions are running high and hot, and election day is still months away on Nov. 8.
Please take a deep breath and repeat after me, “One, two, three, four…”
Well, if you believe our elections are stressful, just imagine the stakes of the dystopian society in “The Purge: Election Year”. In the third film of this controversial series, the U.S. is just two months away from the presidential election and two days from its annual purge, in which its citizens can legally commit any crime – including murder – for 12 hours without punishment. The yearly, March 21 event supposedly allows the country to “purge” all of its angst built up over the year, and this “release” will allegedly help us become better, more moral people.
Some religious corners declare, “Purge and purify.”
That proclamation does not exactly marry with “Thou shall not kill,” but hey, this is America, right?
James DeMonaco – who wrote and directed the first two “Purge” films – is back at the helm for the third picture and delivers a fairly effective story by creating and featuring a few, likable lead characters and following through on their journey during a twisted night of madness and debauchery.
Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell from the TV series “Lost” (2004 – 2010)) wants to end the annual purge (for personal reasons, which I will not reveal), and she is not alone. Polls indicate that she is only a percentage point or two from winning the election from the incumbent, Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor). The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) intend that the purge will continue, so they hatch a plan to kill Sen. Roan. Luckily for the senator, former policeman Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) is her head of security, and he stands in the way of some serious baddies who attempt to murder her.
While DeMonaco reintroduces Leo and introduces Charlie, he also establishes three other key characters. Joe (Mykelti Williamson) owns a deli shop in our nation’s capital and Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) works for him. Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel) is their close friend who frequently visits Joe’s place of business. The film successfully plays with the narrative by alternating storylines between Charlie’s pressured world with Joe’s more laid back, and sometimes, comical arena. Joe has to cope with obscenely high insurance rates and potential looters on “Purge Day”, so his life is not all fun and games, but the back and forth between the stories during the film’s first 30 minutes establishes the characters and a sense of mood.
Although not under completely believable circumstances, Charlie and Leo eventually meet Joe and Marcos, and the four team up to keep the senator safe from a group of hired mercenaries along with the regular purgers and purgettes. DeMonaco does not make it easy for Leo, Joe and Marcos, as he writes a number of scenes where this newly-formed team must vulnerably maneuver D.C.’s streets on foot. The film keeps the story moving by continually introducing elements of danger but not spending too much time with each group of purgers.
We see some stunning but demented imagery – sometimes presented in slow motion – which unfortunately finds places in the crooks and bends of our minds. I hope they are places of short-term memory, because the film shows group hangings under florescent lights of a city park, gladiator swordplay and a four-door sedan completely covered in white Christmas lights with four teenage girls wearing wedding dresses and carrying shotguns and buzz saws.
Our leads make some inexplicable decisions to place themselves in harm’s way, and I certainly shook my head in disgust but continually crossed my fingers for their safety, as they dodged and fought their way through oodles of menacing U.S. citizens and also some international murder tourists.
Apparently, murder tourism is a thing now.
Well, as unpleasant as our own election year has become, at least we will not have to deal with an annual purge, but how many more months do we have until the election? Sigh.
Image credits: Universal Pictures; Trailer credits: Universal Pictures (YouTube)