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The Purge – Election Year (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

The Purge - Election Year

The Purge – Election Year


Starring Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Raymond J. Barry, Terry Serpico, Edwin Hodge, Barry Nolan, Liza Colon-Zayas, Ethan Phillips, Adam Cantor, Christopher James Baker, Jared Kemp, Brittany Mirabile and Kyle Secor.

Screenplay by James DeMonaco.

Directed by James DeMonaco.

Distributed by Universal Pictures.  103 minutes.  Rated R.

If you think this year’s Presidential elections have been particularly ugly, even the viciousness of the Trump/Clinton battle royale pales – though only slightly – in the reflection of The Purge: Election Year.

The latest in the popular series of vaguely science-fiction action dramas, showing rampant violence in a not-very-distant future dystopian version of the United States, Election Year adds some very blunt political satire to the mix.

I have to admit right at the top here that this is the first of The Purge movies I have actually seen, though I was intrigued by the idea of the Ethan Hawke original.

It’s actually a pretty interesting idea for a very jaded time: For one night a year, as something of a cleansing ritual, all laws are revoked.  People are free to maim, kill, loot, rob and run wild for twelve hours with no legal recourse.  Those who don’t want to participate are forced to hide out in their heavily armor-fortified homes and wait for the sun to come up.

Of course, in this edition of the series, they have decided to add a political twist.  The Presidential elections are just about to come up.  The people’s choice appears to be a liberal firebrand, Senator Charlie Rhoan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a woman who survived having her family massacred in an earlier Purge.  She is running on a platform of repealing and not replacing the annual bloodletting.

Of course, her ultra-conservative (and hypocritically religious) opponents feel that the night of anarchy keeps the people from revolting against their policies, so they can’t abide by the idea of letting the festival (of sorts) fade into history.  Therefore, they come up with an idea: assassinate the Senator and make it look like she is just another Purge fatality.

However, an ambush by a series of on-the-take government agents ends up being a fiasco, leaving the Senator on the run in the night with only her loyal and very skilled Secret Service operative (Frank Grillo) between her and violence.  They are being tracked by corrupt government agents and wild citizens who have no idea of her own prominence, they just see her as a warm body.

Therefore, we have a series of haphazardly violent set pieces with lots of political symbolism: killers are dressed up as scary punk versions of Uncle Sam, Abraham Lincoln and the Statue of Liberty.

Finally, the Senator and the Secret Service man end up in the deli of a gruff-but-lovable local shopkeeper (Mykelti Williamson), who helps her get in touch with an underground revolutionary anti-Purge group, who try to help keep her safe until the sun comes up.

While it is an interesting variation on the theme, we have seen tons of similar storylines in cinemas recently – The Hunger Games, Divergent, even the terrible Suicide Squad.  The Purge: Election Year proudly wears its b-movie bonafides as compared to those blockbusters.  In fact, The Purge is most obviously a pretty blatant rip-off of John Carpenters 1981 classic Escape From New York.

There are a few well-known actors here who are way too good for this kind of B-movie melodrama clap trap, including Elizabeth Mitchell (ER), Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump) and in particular Kyle Secor of the late, great Homicide: Life on the Street as the incumbent (and absolutely insane) President.

However, if you sit back and take The Purge: Election Year as the kind of grindhouse exploitation it is, you can’t help but admit that it’s rather entertaining.  No real serious political point is made here, but as a cat-and-mouse video game amongst an eccentric gallery of killers, The Purge: Election Year keeps its campaign promises.  It doesn’t offer much substance, but it never claimed it would.  Instead it relies on red meat, anger and generalities – sort of like the Republican convention.  At least The Purge: Election Year was more pleasurable than that overblown spectacle.

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2016 All rights reserved. Posted: October 19, 2016.


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