THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR (Universal)
Dir, Script. James DeMonaco
Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson
Plot: A senator rides high in the polls opposing the annual Purge. The Purge strikes back.
The Purge franchise stands in an odd place for me – for one, it is proof that a successful franchise need not colossal production budgets ($23m has been spent on the three films in the series – a Marvel film could add a zero to that amount in one go), just an interesting premise and memorable marketing images. The Purge: Election Year is memorable images and not much more however. You get the sense that the entire series is the playground of James DeMonaco, the man who has directed and written all three Purge films, to empty his mind of what must be terrible dreams. His vision of the Purge itself definitely stands out, with a few great looking shots of unspeakable violence and depravity, but they all come at once, and when they all come together the whole effect just goes away. And unfortunately, once the crazy looking mask is pulled off of The Purge: Election Year, we find a face that has been stabbed and shot already in the fighting.
Election Year is probably the point at which DeMonaco should move onto other things – the Purge series has exhausted its options now. The political premise behind it, of a senator opposing the Purge, has some traction for about 2 minutes, until it hits you that nobody in their right mind could support the Purge. Instead of presenting both sides of the debate, DeMonaco runs you down with a truck of Purge injustices without ever offering a counterpoint; that, and the shells in masks that have no stories or traits other than wanting to kill for no reason (apart from one 14 year old girl, who literally just wants a candy bar, and brings about a gang of 7 in two identical cars smothered in fairy lights like that annoying neighbour’s house at Christmas to achieve this aim), are the biggest problems with this movie. DeMonaco’s direction is all style and no substance, and a smatter of subtlety wouldn’t go amiss. The script is also laden with faults: you will be stunned that Charlie Roan, the aforementioned Purge-opposing senator, was able to be elected as a fucking milk monitor, let alone a seemingly powerful member of the legislature. Her choices are black-out, slap me round the face with a frying pan stupid: Roan (played by Elizabeth Mitchell in a flat outing)’s choices actually create the problems that she needs to now overcome. The Purge series has a history of stupid characters doing stupid things but Roan takes the biscuit – if you knew her in real life, you would pat her on the back in sheer pity. How DeMonaco came to the conclusion that America’s shining beacon of hope for ending the Purge should have the mental capacity of some safety scissors will stand amongst great statements such as ‘We should raise tuirion fees!’ and ‘Saddam Hussein is known to have weapons of mass destruction’ as being literally the thickest thing that could be done in that scenario.
The characters that help Roan are, mercifully, less utterly hopeless. When they first stumble in to a couple of shop owners protecting their store on Purge night, Senator Stupid’s chief of security (and star of the previous instalment of the series, Anarchy) Frank Grillo is wary to trust them. However, DeMonaco reveals that both Grillo and the store owners are strong with the deus ex machina, a complex, Latin magic that can only be utilised by characters forged from the pen of lazy scriptwriters. Whenever the group protecting Roan (resembling a twisted reality where twenty kids in high-visibility jackets walk a couple of abject looking supervisors in a straight line towards school) gets targeted by all manner of gangs and weaponry, all these characters need to do is look within their souls, channel the deus ex machina that lies within them, and release it unto the world. Thusly, ordinary shop owners can randomly stumble upon the coded whistle that communicates gang loyalty, and be a deadly marksman because ‘In Juarez, every day was like the Purge’. The performances from the rest of the cast are all serviceable, with Grillo providing a slightly paranoid and weary edge to his character that makes him stand out. Mykelti Williamson also appears as a shop owner trying to do the right thing, and despite having plot conveniences steaming from his ears like the Tasmanian Devil eating a hot potato, he has an arc that you’ll probably be able to sympathise with. But any of that is effectively glossed over by DeMonaco’s hyper-stylised Purges, so vividly and anarchically portrayed you get the impression he’s a man that wants in on it. They do their job: they show the care-free violence, the horror of it, even touching on what happens to a person when they are allowed to be violent – but there’s no soul in them, nothing that makes them resonate after they’re gone. What does stick out is a poorly conceived plot with so much convenience that you could trade it all in for a lifetime supply of winning lottery tickets, a central character who makes forks look like philosophers, and at worst, an unmotivated and unsubtle picture that will have you wishing for the morning siren to come, and the law to be reinstated.
BEST WATCHED: Summer’s over – better films are on the way, trust me.
For the time being, a fourth Purge movie has yet to be announced, but with Election Year on track to make a handsome return on Universal’s investment, ruling it out would make you as stupid as that Senator. Grillo has nothing major lined up, although most who know him will be interested to see if Crossbones does make another appearance in the MCU down the line, having turned up in the last two Captain America films. Meanwhile, Mitchell, a TV actor predominantly, will probably return to her multiple ongoing series, Once Upon A Time amongst them.