I’ve held off on writing this one for a while because I have the bad opinion. The Purge: Election Year is pretty fucking great. It’s not perfect. Of course it isn’t; it’s a Blumhouse production. But, it’s it best of the three Purge joints (not saying a lot, I know) and if you’re in the mood for some B-movie action it’s just about the best this year.
I say action because the series bears no resemblance to a horror movie anymore. This is only a good thing, horror movies work by keeping information from the viewer. That’s basically how jump scares work. The franchise cursed itself with a concept so intriguing and ripe for exploration that even in a functional (watch The Purge again, notice: not bad, functional) film the entire thing collapses under the weight of un-met expectation.
The Purge: Anarchy had the best subtitle it could have had. ‘You want more? Here’s more.’ It works, better than the original at least, but in a totally messy madcap way that lacks focus. We move from a siege to a gauntlet. A welcome change but hardly a grand step forward. When the spirit of the stories we tell is matched by the lads rendition of their paintballing stag do – we really need to do some self-examination.
The Purge: Election Year is evidence that Writer/Director James DeMonaco has engaged in some. Frank Grillo returns as… I dunno, Seargent something. Let’s be honest, Frank Grillo returns as Frank Grillo, this time a security expert in the employ of upstart political candidate Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) running on the outrageous platform that maybe government sanctioned terrorism is a bad idea. An idea so confusingly poplar she’s actually threatening to unseat the incumbents; so when purge night rolls around, guess who’s got the target painted on their head.
On the other side of the tracks, Joe (Mykelti Williamson) takes security into his own hands after an unexpected hike in his purge insurance leaves his convenience store, his livelihood, at risk. Joined by employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) and assisted by purge veteran/battle nurse Laney (an amazing Betty Gabriel) you’ll never guess who ends up fleeing down their street.
If that all sounds as campy as hell, rest assured, it is. With the horror gone, camp fills the void. Largely because for the first time the Purgers are not the bad guys. Assholes, sure, and obstacles to be overcome, but our leads have bigger fish to fry. The long table of grey faced men in their white suits. The paramilitary force who decide to emblazon their uniforms with the slogan ‘White Power’ just so everybody knows. Those in their silly costumes seem parochial by comparison and the film treats them as such. They aren’t horrors, they’re jokes, prancing around in their gaudy costumes. The film lets itself have fun with them because nobody in any of the previous films has been having as much fun as the bad guys.
Another side effect is a compelling plot. Who knew, by filling a film with likable characters, with actual intentions and their own points of view you can actually make a fair go of it. It’s not subtle. It wears its heart on its sleeve as openly as the militia here wear swastikas on theirs. Throw in some decent action and despite myself I found myself falling hard. If you can’t have the right opinion it might as well be an uncool one too.