Not surprisingly, I’m super stoked when basically any new horror flick hits theaters. That said, there are some films that inevitably provoke more anticipation than others. As I’ve insinuated on this site before, dangle an eerie ghost movie in front of me, and I’ll likely become more excited than I am for a murder mystery or similar fare. For that reason – and because The Purge: Anarchy was a little drawn out and monotonous – I didn’t have super high expectations headed into The Purge: Election Year. I mean, I was pumped, but I was experiencing a milder, more contained version of exhilaration, premised off the supposition that Election Year could get really damn boring by mid-movie. Alas, I was surprised! The Purge: Election Year is a film that delivers. It’s easily better than The Purge: Anarchy, and may be better than the original Purge. With a plot that grows increasingly more speculative of human nature and more critical of the purge, and the most likable cast to boot, The Purge: Election Year is almost certain to satiate the ardent horror enthusiast.
Years after a traumatic experience with the yearly 12-hour, any-crime-is-legal purge – an experience that left the rest of her family dead – Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) runs for president with the lofty agenda of eradicating the purge. In doing so, she becomes an indirect representative for the impoverished and unfortunate, a group the purge disproportionately harms. But she also becomes a target for the whack-job purge fanatics who believe that “purging” (killing legally one night a year) is their God-given right (and spiritual necessity). Such fanatics include her fiercest political opponent, a member of the NFFA (the New Founding Fathers of America). Unsurprisingly, the NFFA targets the senator on purge night and she’s forced to slither around town with her security guard, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), in an effort to evade the murderous maniacs infesting the streets. Fortunately for Leo and the Senator, the pair runs into a group of genuinely good people who are intent on helping them survive.
First, this movie is relieving in the vaster context of the Purge franchise because it’s the first film that overtly, undoubtedly, without question critiques the purge, instead of suggesting that an annual night of unchecked slaughter might be beneficial to individuals and society at large. Most of the film’s purgers are an amalgam of abhorrent and psychotic, and most of the film’s (endearing) main characters not only stand in opposition to the purge, but actively try to defy its effects, in many cases with the conscious goal of helping others. In fact, while the film creatively shows us the many warped ways people purge (i.e. immolating a lover and watching them burn alive), it also shows the various movements that have sprung from the purge – positive and negative. The movie showcases unstable weirdos from other countries who come to America expressly to purge (to which I say, who the hell would voluntarily place herself in the midst of that mayhem?!), and humanitarians who try to protect the poor and oppressed during the purge. The film stands as a creative depiction of how the ghoulish tradition affects society, complete with a blatantly critical eye toward legally supported, senseless killing and other crime. As is the case with about half the horror movies I see, I was never really scared during the movie, but then, I was never bored either. The movie, if nothing else, is a refreshingly captivating story.
Beyond that, the film is an interesting depiction of how appalling (and/or irrational) practices become socially acceptable when they’re venerably molded into a “law,” and it serves to illustrate that an act need not be ethically sound to be legal. In the film, the all-white, old, male New Founding Fathers implement a law making it legal to murder for 12 hours, and suddenly everyone’s proclaiming the benefit of murder and adamantly defending it as their God-given and law-given right, despite the fact that it’s unquestionably wrong, soul tainting, and completely irrational. Oh, sigh, how I try to remain unpartisan on this blog. (Okay, I don’t really try that hard). But every time I watch a Purge movie, I think so much of the gun control debate.
I’m sorry. I don’t care what anyone says. When documented evidence shows that heavily regulating or illegalizing firearms dramatically decreases death (thousands of percentages over – as it has in Japan and myriad European countries), and people are being senselessly killed in mass numbers on a weekly basis in the United States, it is irrational to cling to the right to bear arms, especially insofar as that right encompasses criminals and terrorists and includes guns of mass destruction whose only purpose is to execute a multitude in a few trigger clicks (machine-gun contraptions). A broad approach to the second amendment that embraces any type of firearm for any nutcase who wants to own one is illogical and destructive in the year 2016, but people cling to gun ownership like it’s a God given right – too stubborn to make the slightest concession – because the right to a well-regulated militia was written into a living document over 200 years ago when we were in a revolutionary war with then-behemoth Great Britain. We’ve senselessly shot down legislation that endeavors to put some cap on mass murder in this country because we don’t want people to infringe on our rights, just like the purge is vehemently defended by its supporters, despite the fact that it ends in senseless, merciless killing of innocent (often poor) people, because entitled people are quick to proclaim their rights. All of this is a reason why Purge: Election Year is exceptional: it’s a study in brazen fanaticism, religious hypocrisy, and selfish, “my rights trump the well-being of others” human irrationality.
Phew. I’m not gonna lie. I got a little fired up just typing that paragraph. But I think The Purge movies, and especially the third one, are hugely important for contemporary America, because they show the process of creating harmful, inhuman legislation and the havoc that such legislation wreaks. As Y.B. Yeats writes in his poem “The Second Coming,” The best lack all conviction/ and the worst are full of passionate intensity. Indeed, in the third inception of the purge films, everyday upstanding citizens are tired and resigned to the purge’s seemingly indelible presence, and the sickest, most corrupt, and most conniving American citizens are maddened religious zealots who praise God and Jesus while slaughtering innocent blood for no better reason than the fact that it’s legal for one night and “necessary” to “cleanse” their souls. Truly, The Purge: Election Year does an admirable if ominous job mocking human absurdity.
Okay, so there’s all that, and then there’s the fact that the main characters are completely boss. Like The Purge: Anarchy, Purge: Election Year shifts its protagonist focus away from obscenely wealthy white people (with the exception of the senator, who fights for the common person, and her bodyguard) and gives the attention to minorities of average economic background. In other words, the film highlights ordinary people who would be most affected by the purge. The main characters in this film are brave, funny, and unquestioningly selfless. I felt incredibly invested in their safety, and remarkably emotionally affected by each “good guy’s” well-being (which is not necessarily unusual for a well-made movie, but is arguably unusual for even a strong horror movie, since the genre, with or without meaning to, keeps us at some emotional distance from the characters). I was not alone in my concern. I stole a glimpse at the stranger to my right, who was balled up, her knees pressed tightly against her chest, throughout the whole movie. And at one point, she was crying – as in, she was strongly empathizing with a horror movie character.
True, there are segments of The Purge: Election Year that feel more like an action movie than a horror movie. But, those segments feel like a really captivating and well-written action story – as in, they’re more interesting than your typical action film. The Purge: Election Year is undoubtedly the most morally conscientious film of the Purge franchise, and is arguably the best-written of the three movies. The film has phenomenal characters and is consistently captivating. James DeMonaco (writer/director) and Jason Blum (producer), cheers to you for a job well done! The Purge: Election Year is a topical, important movie that also happens to be, well, extremely entertaining!