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“The Purge: Election Year” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux

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In “The Purge: Election Year,” the third and weakest installment in the popular horror-turned-action movie franchise from Universal Pictures and Blumhouse Productions, we partake in a predominately enjoyable opus into the world of celebratory sadism with a new twist – it’s highly patriotic to participate in that oft-feared night of chaos known as the annual purge. In fact, the New Founding Fathers expect it of you! While I appreciate the sensational aspect of such an idea, the series has gone far off the rails of anything resembling horror. Luckily, we can appreciate it for what it is – a glorified B movie with characters (as well as a score) that seem as if it were lifted right out of the late eighties-early nineties action movie bargain bin at those long-gone establishments that used to be known as video stores! Do I think that this will be the last ever film under “The Purge” banner? Not at all, but I’d be surprised if the next chapter in this saga doesn’t head straight to the unenviable land of home entertainment.

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Frank Grillo returns from “The Purge: Anarchy” as the we-all-thought-he-was-dead antihero Leo Barnes, only this time he’s no longer a vigilante but rather a secret service agent(!) for presidential candidate Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a senator whose platform is based solely on eliminating the annual purge from our nation’s calendar. Naturally this irks the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) to no end, and it is decided that this year’s purge will also function as an organized “hit” upon the good senator, now that the clause that protects high-ranking government officials is lifted (i.e. it’s showtime!) Co-starring Mykelti Williamson as Joe Dixon, a no-nonsense convenience store proprietor who, along with his helper Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), become new allies for Roan and Barnes on this night of unhinged terror.

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Don’t get me wrong, the premise of this film is fresh and fantastic. The trouble is that it isn’t quite the political satire as the film’s terrific advertisements have so led us to believe. And even though this is unquestionably the funniest of writer/director James DeMonaco’s trilogy, it is painfully obvious that he has a bone to pick with a particular political party and because of that it’s liable to offend a sizeable portion of the film’s audience, if only marginally. Yet, at the same time, the narrative of the film manages to never quite take itself seriously, and that works in its favor to counteract any malicious intentions that are propagated throughout.

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Say what you like, but the reason that the “Purge” series is so successful is because it reinvents itself for each episode. Whereas the first film concentrated its horror unto the all-too real prospect of home invasion, “Anarchy” gave us a “concerned citizen” to cheer on that would have made Paul Kersey proud. Two very different films that shared a singular premise, that of survival in the midst of a preposterous adversity. For “Election Year,” the timing couldn’t be better for its political statement. However, don’t expect the presence of first-billed Grillo and his Barnes character to be a repeat of the last film. We realize from the get-go that the only person he intends to protect in this film is the senator, and how can we blame him? It is his job, plain and simple, although I could have used a fill-in-the-gaps account of how he went from half-dead at the end of “Anarchy” to a member of the secret service elite.

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Thanks in part to an advertising campaign that is a stroke of pure genius, “The Purge: Election Year” will satisfy the cravings of a populace that likes their horror movies violent, and its satirical bent is simply icing on the cake. There’s a point in the film when a young lady returns to the scene of a thwarted crime, to enact bloody revenge for not being able to steal a candy bar. We laugh at its absurdity, until we realize that individuals have died for far less in decidedly more barbaric manners. You need go no further than the nightly newscast. Still, as escapism, “The Purge” picks and chooses its heroes and villains and we actually get to meet the NFFA and see what a repulsive group they really are. When we find out their real motive for the annual “cleansing,” the New Founding Fathers of America deserve a clear-cut honorable mention, at the very least, into the Dystopian government hall of infamy.

** (two out of four stars)

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