Dir. James DeMonaco Starring Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson
The Purge trilogy comes to a close with this extremely topical and well-timed final installment, out in time to make a pretty blunt political statement for the turbulent times in which we live. One of the things that I debated was whether this was truly a horror film, but the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion – yes, it is, and what's more the whole trio has a distinctive horror undertone to it. The first is a chilling home invasion piece, starting the series off with a very focussed and small story that introduces the core concept in a very human way. The second piece shows you what it is like on the streets on the night of The Purge, and the nightmarish scenarios that can bring, expanding the issues and widening the canvas immensely. The third steps even further, looking at what would happen if The Purge's existence were to actually come under threat, an epic closing battle between the pro and anti forces. In a sense, it's the ideal way to wrap things up, and does a lot of what you would want it to do.
The concept, for anyone who has missed the trio of movies, is simple but effective – in a bid to allow people to vent their anger and let out their animalistic sides, for one night a year all crime – including murder – is made legal. There are no police, no fire services and no ambulances – it is a night of utter, unmitigated chaos on which some are fired up to commit a series of terrible crimes, whilst others are simply endeavouring to survive, cowering away in fear until morning. While the main perceived benefit is that crime the rest of the year is cut immensely, there are also more sinister undertones – is it a way for the wealthy to get rid of the poor, wipe out those most likely to claim benefits and lean on healthcare?
The Purge: Election Year follows Senator Elizabeth Roan, someone who lost her family to The Purge before setting out on a mission to get rid of the barbaric night entirely. And what's more, she's gaining traction, winning over voters with her easy charm and anti-Purge message. The old-school establishment – led by a group called 'The New Founding Fathers' – don't like that one bit, and so they take The Purge as a chance to eliminate her entirely and remove the problem, keeping the status quo that benefits them so much in place. Her lead bodyguard – Leo Barnes, the same character played by Frank Grillo in The Purge: Anarchy – has quite a challenge ahead of him to face off against a group of highly trained mercenaries hunting her down. Roan and Barnes find themselves joined by an assorted, rag-tag band of supporters and their quest for survival begins – and keeping Roan alive is at the very heart of it.
Overall I think this is a really worthwhile trilogy, especially bearing in mind that it's a Blumhouse product – and I've not exactly been quiet on my view on their role in modern horror. There's plenty of action throughout, which will keep fans of that genre happy, but there's a fantastic sense of tension that runs throughout that has been a hallmark of the trilogy. At times I was literally holding my breath, and the chaotic setting of the streets on Purge night is ideal for that – you have people after you specifically, and that's not to mention people just out to kill for the kick of it, psychopaths and oddballs inspired by some strange mythology or religion, murder tourists visiting the US for a few days to take part in what amounts to a human safari. There could be anything around the corner in this movie, so it rarely relents at any point. And visually I think this is probably the best of the trilogy – there are scenes here that would fit perfectly in any other horror movie, and it has a wonderful sense of invention in terms of what people do when the leash of the law is off and how people do it.
However, there are still a few complaints for me here – deli owner Joe and his employee Marcos are badly-drawn stereotypes of African-Americans and Mexicans, Senator Roan's experience years back on Purge night is not really explored as much as it could be – it feels like a fascinating character aspect that gets all but ignored – and the political point is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. If more had been left to subtext, I think I would have enjoyed this movie even more – maybe it's that old Hollywood habit of just wanting to make sure the viewer has really understood what it's all about...
With all that said, Election Year pretty much does everything that you would want the third movie to do. It cranks up the action, it expands on the idea of rebellion and resistance to the purge, it picks up from the main story threads of Anarchy and represents a very satisfying conclusion to a trio of films that really are quite different, with that one unified concept to tie them together – something that I've always liked to see in films.
RATING: 7/10. There were a few too many niggles for me to rate this extremely highly, but if you've enjoyed the first two Purge movies then this feels like an essential watch as the last piece of the jigsaw. I don't know how well it would stand up without having seen the first two – if you want to check this one out, do yourself a favour and do watch the previous installments. For me, as an all-round product, it's one of the better and more interesting trilogies Hollywood has come up with in recent times.