THE PURGE FILM series was always a curiosity to me, something that had so much potential, but seemingly squandered so fast it was dead on arrival. Based on the premise that the US government allows all crime to be legal for one day every year, in order to keep crime rates low for the rest of the year. That alone shows that this premise was destined to be made into a satire right?
Unfortunately, no. The first film, simply titled ‘The Purge’, took its ridiculous premise far too seriously, and tried to suggest that the Purge would actually work as a means to reduce crime rates. The final film simply ended up being a bland, generic house under siege film. It says a lot when you can take out a film’s unique premise, and the final product would barely change. As you can imagine it was not a good film, but its ridiculously low budget allowed it to be a major success at the box office. And now two sequels have spawned from its success, 2014’s ‘The Purge: Anarchy’, and now, rather aptly during election year in the USA, we have ‘The Purge: Election Year’.
‘The Purge: Anarchy’, while not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, was at least a step in the right direction. It took its action outside and onto the streets, realised that the Purge wouldn’t actually work, and turned itself a silly action film that was, at the very least, never boring. Does ‘Election Year’ build on from the strengths of the second? Can the ‘Purge’ franchise finally strike gold third time round? Does the film think it’s being really clever by obviously trying to mirroring Trump vs. Clinton?
It’s two years after the events of ‘Anarchy’, and there is a heated build up to a presidential election, between Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who wants to ban the Purge, and Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor), who is in favour of keeping the Purge. And wouldn’t you know it? It’s nearly time for the annual Purge. You can already see where this is going, yes, the people who want to keep the Purge are going to use it as an opportunity to kill off their political opponent. So it’s up to our hero from the last film, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), now the Senator’s head of security, to protect her on this Purge night.
Starting out with the positives here, the movie is very much like the second one, only with the pace dialled up to be even faster. Which I very much appreciate, it’s a movie that knows what it wants to be and how to achieve it. The structure is relatively simple, with various action set-pieces held together with a loose sense of plot. It has the bare-bones for a solid action flick, but its execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot this movie does right. The performances for instance, with Frank Grillo once again proving he’s got the acting chops to be the leading man in film like this, (most of you will probably recognise him as Rumlow/Crossbones from Marvel’s latter two Captain America films). The rest of the cast also put in solid performances; Elizabeth Mitchell, while very clearly not giving it her all, is still very convincing as the no-nonsense politician, and Kyle Secor is fun, if a bit too over the top at times…most of the time.
The action helps carry the film quite some way, it’s pretty well shot for the most part, and the cinematography makes great use of lighting and atmosphere. Admittedly the shaky-cam in these sequences can be a bit overbearing at times, but it’s never a deal-breaker. They’re well-done, entertaining, and stop the film from bogging itself down too much.
The big issue, and it’s one that’s pretty hard to ignore, is how the film prioritises the presentation of its story. So far, all I’ve mentioned plot and character-wise has been in relation to the over-arching story related to the presidential election. And while that’s all very good and interesting, the filmmakers seem to have the mindset that another group of characters are needed to “ground” the film, even though the last thing this film needs is grounding.
Enter a group of normal civilians – one of whom owns a convenience store – who are surviving the Purge in said convenience store, with half of them also carrying out vigilante work, saving injured people, being heroes. And it’s all really a bit much in a film that doesn’t need it. Eventually this group of people cross paths with Barnes and Senator Roan, and end up agreeing to help them. But their presence is…unnecessary, to say the least. They don’t have any real reason to help them, other than the vague promise that if the senator comes into power, she’d end the Purge. It just ends up distancing you from these characters, that the filmmakers really want you to care about, much more so than the politicians.
It comes down to the fact that at the start of the film, the two storylines don’t feel like they’re part of the same product. You have one half being very faux-political, but entertaining. And the other being a bit dull, and unfortunately not very grounded or logical. So, when it comes to these two stories coming together, it doesn’t quite mesh well, and so you’re forced to have this tonal inconsistency throughout the rest of the film.
At the end of the day, I can’t really recommend the film personally. Yes, it never gets boring. Yes, most of the action sequences are pretty well done. And yes, this is the closest the ‘Purge’ films ever get to properly utilising their unique presence. But at the end of the day, it still falls short of its potential, half the characters are utterly wasted and forgettable, and yes, the Trump/Clinton do get tiring after a while.
Bottom line, if you like the other Purge films, you’d like this one. If you don’t like/have never been interested in the previous ones, this one isn’t going to change your mind.
However, if you do want a dumb action movie to pass the time with, this is perfectly serviceable, just get it digitally, DVD/Blu-Ray is just asking for a bit too much.
I give ‘The Purge: Election Year’ two and a half stars out of five.
Now the ‘Rick and Morty’ episode ‘Look Who’s Purging Now’. That is a Purge story I can get behind, and is absolutely worth checking out.
THE PURGE:ELECTION YEAR is available on digital download on 12th December 2016 and is coming to Blu-ray and DVD on 26th December 2016, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.