The Purge: Election Year (The 2016 SciFi Film Festival)
Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Betty Gabriel, Joeseph Julian Soria
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…Election Year is a B movie with brains, balls and blood…
For our third trip into writer/director James DeMonaco’s near future world of government-mandated slaughter, the scope of Blumhouse Productions’ premiere franchise widens once again, embracing the political parody that has so far been more of an excuse than a raison d’etre – and just in time for the Presidential Debates, too.
For those who came in late, the titular Purge is an annual orgy of violence wherein all laws are suspended for a period of 12 hours and America is plunged into a bloody chaos that serves to keep the poor in their place and cement the class inequality that serves the needs of ruling cabal, the far right New Founding Fathers of America. Not everyone is happy with the status quo, though, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is campaigning to end the Purge, having seen her own family brutally murdered some 18 years back. Of course, Purge night is a perfect time for a deniable political assassination and it looks like Charlie is going to be a martyr for her cause. Luckily for the senator, her head of security is former cop Leo Barnes (the always reliable Frank Grillo), the MVP of the previous film and not a man to let something as trifling as a Neo-Nazi death squad ruin his night.
Intersecting this main narrative, we get the story of a convenience store owner (Mykelti Williamson) defending his store through the night, and a paramedic (Betty Gabriel) who works Purge Night in an armoured ambulance, trying to help people caught in the crossfire. It’s interesting to see the various little threads that make up the fabric of the Purge universe: the notion of Purge Insurance for businesses (skyrocketing premiums are what put Williamson on the roof of his shop with a rifle), so-called “murder tourists” travelling to the US to kill with impunity, even the ubiquitous Purge masks and their function as both disguise and fashion/political statement. Like its predecessors (and its Blumhouse stablemates), Election Year is realised on a tight budget, but a lot of thought has gone into presenting a world which, while not necessarily realistic, is at least textured and somewhat plausible by its own lights.
The action has been ramped up considerably, too, with our heroes on the run from not only masked marauders, but a hit squad with a cannon-equipped helicopter. You can feel DeMarco testing the limits of his film, both in terms of complexity and scale, milking every scene for everything it’s worth. Indeed, the film’s chief failing is that it goes too far in that direction, abandoning its exploitation roots in favour of something more high-minded. It’d be great to see a Purge movie successfully bridge those two poles, but this one doesn’t quite manage the trick. While the political satire lands solidly, the film often ignores the more base charms of its premise, and let’s face facts: while we might laud the film’s intellectual ideals, we’re also here to watch a variety of people die in enjoyably gruesome ways. Election Year often forgets this implicit promise.
It is the best of the series so far, though, and leaves the door open for a more expansive continuation down the track. The Purge series is one of those rare franchises that keeps getting better as it rolls on, from the first housebound siege film to this more thoughtful installment. Election Year is a B movie with brains, balls and blood, and that should be high enough recommendation.
The Purge: Election Year is screening at The 2016 SciFi Film Festival, which runs from October 19-23 at The Ritz Cinema, Randwick, in Sydney. For more on The Purge: Election Year and to buy tickets, head to the official site.