Review - 'The Purge: Election Day'
“The Purge occurs for 12 hours on March 21 to 22, from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. the next day, during which all crime is legal and all police, fire, and medical emergency services remain unavailable.”
James DeMonaco’s ‘The Purge: Election Year’ kicks off knowing full well what kind of purge film people preferred to watch; the trashier, gorier, dopier and altogether more crowd-pleasing world portrayed in the second film. We are reintroduced to Frank Grillo’s Leo Barnes (yes, I had to wiki his character’s name) who has now somehow become a senator’s bodyguard. The senator, Charlie Roan, played convincingly by former ‘Lost’ star, Elizabeth Mitchell is fighting for a Purge-free nation. Who is she fighting against? A bunch of hilariously over-the-top bureaucratic white people and neo-nazis that faintly echo some of the people we’ve seen publicized in the news as of late.
The film’s first act is a little wobbly. It starts off strong by showing the senator as a young girl tied up on a couch with her family as a purger threatens their death. Cut to the present and we see her campaigning against the annual event with Grillo’s Barnes maintaining security. We are then introduced to the Westboro Bap-*cough* sorry, the bureaucratic baddies shaking their heads as they watch her speech unfold on television. Raymond J. Barry is entertaining as he hams it up as their leader. As great as these transitions and introductions were, it all comes to a screeching halt when an additional cast of characters are introduced at some random deli downtown. This is mainly due to the out-of-left-field nature of their introduction. They literally have zero relation to the other characters and could have been introduced in a much more natural way if we had waited to meet them when Barnes and Roan inevitably run into them later on. That being said, I wasn’t bothered by most of the new characters once their wonkily edited origins were out of the way.
What surprised me most about this film was that I actually sort-of cared about the characters, their relationships, and their motivations. Though the script was bogged down by some pretty poor writing, the actors committed to it and didn’t seem to be just cashing a check. There’s also some pretty chuckle-worthy one-liners from Mykelti Williamson who portrays the deli owner, Joe Dixon which adds some much-needed levity to the proceedings.
The story itself actually isn’t all that bad and keeps things moving briskly from set-piece to set-piece. There’s a few dangling threads by the end but at least there’s always something going on to keep you on your toes. I attribute not ever getting bored to the fact that the characters you’re watching aren’t dull lifeless husks like they seem to be in almost every other horror movie.
The film has a generally cheap-looking, schlocky nature which is occasionally offset by colorful and creative moments. I have a theory that DeMonaco must have seen ‘Drive’ for the first time during the middle of the shoot for this film. At times it displayed some of these crazed purgers and their nutty personalities through unique and colorful costumes and vehicles. Their costume designs and mad antics kept reminding me of the characters that populated Mad Max. This then got me thinking about how cool it would have been if they pumped a little more cash into this thing and made it completely bonkers and more aesthetically pleasing. That’s the element of this movie that showed hints of greatness and that I wanted to see more of.
Now here’s a nit-pick. Action-wise, the film depicts a ton of shaky-cam gun-violence and that’s pretty much it. I’m sorry, but when I walk into a b-level action-horror movie of this ilk I expect to see in-focus grindhouse-level gore. Intestines need to be draping from gutted stomachs, skulls need to be shattered, and brains must be exploded in all of their faux-bloody glory. I didn’t get much of that here. So if you’re a gore-hound, expect blood but don’t come looking for anything remotely innovative in that department. There were a few satisfying kills, most of them of the shotgun/pistol variety and one that easily takes the cake involving a speeding van and two dressed-up teeny-bopper purgers.
Overall I thought Election Year was successful at its goal of being a trashy, entertaining film with a fun premise. The movie checked most of the boxes, there’s just nothing really remarkable about it. It’s certainly not very cinematic in quality, meaning you won’t miss anything when it is transferred to the smaller screen. It’s the very definition of a redbox movie, but if you end up sneaking into the theater to see it, you probably not feel like your time was wasted.