To be fair, I only watched The Purge series because old friend, and fellow blogger, Glenn Miller (check out his blog My Little Underground, it’s great!) said the second one was decent. You can’t eat only one (right?), so in short order I’ve plowed through the series, culminating in last night’s viewing of The Purge: Election Year, and clearly the series has run out of steam.
Hard to discuss the third movie without at least giving mention to the others, but if you want the full reviews of The Purge and The Purge: Anarchy, click the links! Briefly, The Purge is a small story set within the sci fi/mild horror concept of the annual Purge event (where all crime, including murder, is legal for a 12 hour period, once a year) created by James De Monaco (who has written and directed all three movies), where the family of the protagonist, played by Ethan Hawke, comes under siege from a group of youths out for their annual catharsis. In The Purge: Anarchy, the action moves to the streets and follows the quest of a grieving father, played by Frank Grillo, out to use the cover of The Purge to exact revenge on the man who caused the death of his son. Anarchy is bigger in scope, showing us what happens on the streets of this public “holiday”, and the ambition of Election Year is conceptually bigger, but as a cinematic experience it isn’t much different than Anarchy. Grillo (Captain America: Civil War) reprises his character from Anarchy, but is somehow now the lead in the security detail of Senator Charlie Roan (Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell), herself a former Purge victim whose presidential campaign focuses strongly on dismantling The Purge. The premise of Election Year is that Roan’s growing popularity among the electorate makes her a prime target of assassination during the current year’s Purge. It’s here that the premise and execution of the series falls apart under the weight of De Monaco’s personal political slant.
The premise of the Purge is hokey and impractical, but for the purpose of one movie it’s a good enough backdrop for the original. Because of the movie’s actual storyline that focuses on Hawke’s family, I could see how a sequel would expand on the premise in a way that the confined, insular storyline of The Purge couldn’t, and while it does so the plot feels thin and doesn’t focus as much as it should on Grillo’s story, which is treated more of a main subplot than the archplot. What Anarchy does do is amp up the insidiousness of The Purge, spotlighting the strong possibility that the annual cull is simply designed to target the poor and disadvantaged. What it also does is make one wonder why people apparently are only concerned enough to voice these concerns once a year? The premise alone, considering that the USA of the movie is more or less the same as the one we have right now, is silly, but it is an interesting satire of the apathy of a comfortable middle class. When things are good, who cares why they’re good? The annual Purge, in the context of the movie, is successful in accomplishing low unemployment and a strong economy, so nobody complains. Too much.
The Purge: Election Year finally addresses this logic gap. Senator Roan’s rising appeal clearly shows a groundswell of popular opinion against the Purge, and the activist group seen in Anarchy run their own parallel anti-Purge movement. It’s inevitable that Roan will escape from the New Founding Fathers’ attempt to terminate her and join forces with the activists, so the story contains no surprises at all. What it does though, is serve up a pretty boneheaded lack of subtlety I found insulting. De Monaco’s left wing politics are the blueprint for these movies – while you have to imagine that people of all walks of life participate in the purge, the only villains the movie out and out depicts are Republicans. I find this kind of black and white storytelling to be dull and by the numbers, but any semblance of allegory in this series are shredded completely in Election Year. Not only are the Republicans evil, they’re Eeevil, painted in childishly broad brushstrokes by De Monaco, who is mostly using the movie as a condescending screed to the audience. “Oh you didn’t get it before,” it’s like he’s saying, “Fine, I’ll feed it to you with a spoon.” Even Helen Keller could see what Election Year is really about. De Monaco doesn’t just spoonfeed how Eeevil Republicans are, he crams it down our throats.
I am mostly nonpolitical. I prefer to stay in the middle because I feel the politics of the Left and the Right are destructive. The Left’s political tactics of shaming people into silence is as despicable as the Right’s religious need to legislate morality – and to be clear, when I say the Left and the Right, I’m not specifically talking about the Democratic or Republican parties, because I believe that the moderates of both are good and decent people who share a large common ground and are perfectly willing to agree compromise measures. In the current political climate, both parties have been commandeered by activists and their scorched-earth, win-at-all-cost mentalities. De Monaco uses Election Year as his own bully pulpit, and it’s disappointing. The audience for movies is made up of a huge mix of people – they don’t always need to be escapist fantasies, they can inspire us to think and feel and plant seeds of curiosity within us to learn more about the world around us. In the Purge: Election Year De Monaco short changes the audience by writing a paper thin story as a draping for his own political beliefs and either forgot the part about how message movies also need to entertain, or he just stopped caring. The main story about Grillo protecting Mitchell is so same-old same old you won’t really care, because you’ve seen it before, done better in so many other movies. When you see costumed Millennials dancing around with guns in slow motion, all you get is De Monaco’s lame attempt at stylism, and every time Mykelti Williamson’s character talks, his dialogue, coupled with his innately flat and unconvincing delivery, provides unintentional comic relief. Grillo is a guy I like to see onscreen – he has a solid action movie presence – but he’s utterly wasted in this movie.
After I watched this clumsy political diatribe, I didn’t feel like I watched a movie – instead, I felt like I walked away from a guy passing out pamphlets about how Republicans eat immigrant babies for dinner and he called me an asshole for not taking one.