Whether meticulously planned or merely coincidental, the release of the third chapter in The Purge franchise couldn't be more timely and relevant. Despite being a genre flick and often falling victim to the pitfalls of mindless entertainment, writer/director James DeMonaco‘s attempt at sociopolitical commentary as the premise of a horror franchise is kind of genius.
The nod to current events is evident from the film's title. This is indeed election year in the U.S., as we all know well, and although the film's dystopian reality calls for a rather peculiar kind of political campaign, the thematic connection with present day's issues is impossible to ignore. This is what makes The Purge: Election Year compelling and different from the rest of the horror fare out there.
If you’re still unfamiliar with the premise, the purge is a yearly event in an undefined but seemingly close future when all crime, including murder, is made legal for twelve hours. The ‘New Founding Fathers Association’ (NFFA) established it in order to reduce crime and violence during the rest of the year, and in doing so improve the economy.
Of course, there’s a corrupt side to the whole thing. Government members are immune to the event and the white and rich (most of the NFFA members or supporters) abuse the night by arranging purge parties themed around sadistic fun such as hunting for human prey.
There isn’t direct narrative continuity within the franchise, although this third film sees the return of Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), a former police sergeant from the previous film. Leo is now working as head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell), a woman who lost her entire family during a purge night and whose ultimate goal is to finally eliminate the purge.
Senator Roan is doing well in the polls after exposing that the purge’s main victims every year belong to minorities and the working class, clearly indicating that something is wrong with the system and that the purge is just another way for the 1% to have their way. Her campaign winds up provoking the NFFA, who plot to take care of the problem – and Roan – during the upcoming yearly purge.
DeMonaco brings a breath of fresh air with the third chapter of his politically charged franchise. The first film introduced us to this dystopian world and its disturbing flaws but kept the action contained within the walls of a house under siege. From there he took things onto the streets for The Purge: Anarchy, the sequel exploring the insanity at play, and now he’s taken the concept full circle by focusing on the source of the problem. He’s clearly having fun introducing new little details such as ‘murder tourism’ (foreigners coming to the U.S. to purge), purge insurance, gladiator-style fights in the streets, and purge ceremonies held in churches.
The Purge: Election Year is dark, but there’s room for comic relief. This time around it’s provided by the underrated Mykelti Williamson, who plays Joe Dixon, a convenient store owner who stakes out all night to protect his store from looters. Williamson delivers a sympathetic and genuine turn, and also has the best line of the film when his employee shows up unannounced to help him defend the store and Joe reacts: “You don’t wanna sneak up on black people on purge night!”
From Black Lives Matter to Trump and the NRA, Election Year is thought-provoking fun, over the top as ever but with a more fleshed out world and great tension – an eerie allegory of today's America that entertains and leaves you wondering, ‘What if…?’
Words by Francesco Cerniglia