This is not a test. This is your Emergency Broadcast System announcing the commencement of The Annual Purge.
America – home of baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet. And in the not too distant future, government sanctioned robbery, rape and murder for twelve hours one day out of the year. The Purge: Election Year couldn’t be more timely as America finds itself perhaps the most divided since the Civil War. As violence rages in the streets, and we get set to elect a new leader, the line between actual America and that depicted in The Purge films is beginning to blur a bit. This third installment in the series of action horror thrillers sees “The Purge” as popular as ever among the rich and powerful, and everyone else looking to let off a little, or rather, a lot of steam. But there are also those who want to put an end to this annual bloodletting, and this clash of ideals sets the stage for another round of adrenaline-charged violence and suspense.
Commencing at the siren, any and all crime, including murder, will be legal for 12 continuous hours.
Set two years after the events of 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy, that film’s star, Frank Grillo returns as Leo Barnes. This time, instead of protecting a group of stragglers caught outside on Purge Night, while chasing down his own personal agenda, Barnes is now head of security for a Senator Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who lost her entire family to The Purge as a child and now is running for President on the platform of ending this deadly event once and for all. Naturally, there are those in power, specifically the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA), who oversee The Purge, that are looking to keep the status quo. Headed by Caleb Warren (Raymond J. Barry), along with Senator Roan’s political rival, Minister Owens (Kyle Secor), this group of rich and powerful men will stop at nothing to stop the Senator’s run for office and her attempts at ending The Purge. As Barnes struggles to protect her against increasingly insurmountable odds, they are joined by deli owner, Joe (Mykelti Williamson), his employee, Marcos, (Joseph Julian Soria) and a tough-as-nails woman, Laney, that Joe practically raised, who scours the city in a triage unit, which is afforded protection under Purge rules. As these people fight to stay alive, they encounter a number of groups, some friendly, and some not, as more layers of the goings-on behind the scenes are peeled back. Can they survive long enough to last The Purge?
Police, fire and emergency medical services will be unavailable until….The Purge concludes.
The Purge series is an original and unique series of horror films that in a way, glorify violence by offering the audience a cathartic thrill, while at the same time condemning it. While the first The Purge (2013) took place primarily in a single residence, the second one opened things up by taking it to the streets. This one also takes place throughout the city, while becoming much more overtly political. All three Purge films were written and directed by Brooklyn-born James DeMonaco, and he has to be commended for keeping the series exciting, fresh and attune to the times. The cast is excellent, from the return of Grillo (Brock Lumlow/Crossbones in the last two Captain America films), Mitchell (known for TV genre fare like Lost, V, Revolution and the current Dead of Summer), Barry (Senator Matheson on The X-Files, and more recently, Justified and The 100) and Secor (best known for NBC’s standout cop drama, Homicide). They all get their chance to shine in this film, though none moreso than Williamson (Forrest Gump’s loveable Bubba), as Joe Dixon, who’s just as loveable here, and adds some levity to the film, essentially a first for this series, with a steady stream of hilarious one-liners.
While The Purge is strictly an American institution, it has become so popular among certain people, that a kind of ‘murder tourism’ has opened up where foreigners come here to experience this ‘Halloween for adults,’ while proclaiming, “We love America – it is the greatest country in the world!” (Yet, David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans” plays over the end credits.) Also on hand are a group of female purgers, riding in lit up vehicles and wielding chainsaws and other lethal weapons, reminiscent of Mad Max.
One can’t help but see the many parallels between the action in The Purge: Election Year and what is going on in America right now. With the endless spate of gun violence in this country, from mass shootings to police killings with racist undertones to police being gunned down themselves, how far away from the events in The Purge are we? The NFFA could easily stand in for the Republican Party, looking to keep minorities and the poor in check and disenfranchised. In the movie, The Purge does the job, while in Real America, it’s the war on drugs, biased incarceration, voter suppression and an insufficient minimum wage. In The Purge, it’s White Male Privileged America running the show, and wanting to keep it that way, which is pretty much the deal in Real America too. In fact, the NFFA hires a paramilitary force, led by a bald, Confederate flag wearing Neo-Nazi to hunt down Senator Roan, just the sort of constituent a certain racist, hate-mongering Republican nominee appeals to. And Senator Roan, as she runs for President, faces the same sort of misogyny our Democratic nominee does as she pursues the highest office in the land.
Blessed be our new Founding Fathers and America, a nation reborn. May God be with you all.
As Real America grapples with the chasm between the right and the left, between the rich and powerful and the poor and weak, and as gunshots echo through the streets, we wonder what the rest of the world must think of us. We have to hope that in this election year, intelligent, forward-thinking voters win out over scared, angry, small-minded ones. The Purge: Election Year is a taut, action-packed, suspenseful horror film that reminds us that if we aren’t careful, and don’t come together as a nation, we will ultimately split apart, and the history of America will end in America being history.
— review by Brian de Castro