A film review by Craig J. Koban July 8, 2016


2016, R, 105 mins.


Frank Grillo as Sergeant Leo Barnes  /  Mykelti Williamson as Joe  /  Liza Colon-Zayas as Dawn  /  Joseph Julian Soria as Marcos  /  Edwin Hodge as Dante Bishop  /  Elizabeth Mitchell as Senator Charlie Roa

Written and directed by James Demonaco

THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR – the improbable third film in the improbably popular futuristic sci-fi/survival/horror series – is absolute trash.  

But it’s highly entertaining and reasonably well oiled trash.  

I’m not one of those pompous windbag film critics that refuses to allow myself to enjoy sensationalistic B-grade cinema that looks and feels like it belongs in a grungy second run 1970’s drive-in.  As a thoughtful satire and parable of our current socio-economic and political times, THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR is too on-the-nose with its force-fed brand of patent obviousness.  However, as a piece of no-nonsense, unapologetic, and uncompromising rough and rugged exploitation cinema, there’s simply no denying this film’s slick and perverse efficiency.  

The franchise’s sick, twisted, but kind of ingenious premise remains in this new film: In a not-too dystopian future America came under the control of the new “Founding Fathers,” a group of politicians that ushered in a new era of prosperity (unemployment and crime reached near zero per cent levels).  They did this primarily by enacting “The Purge,” an annual 12-hour event, during which time all crime is legal.  Everything.  Murder?  Legal.  Arson?  Legal.  Theft?  Legal.  Michael Bay’s continued film career?  Legal.  Through the years The Purge became a juggernaut success, which its chief architects believe allows for American citizens to cathartically release their deeply rooted inner demons, thereby assisting their health and productivity as contributors to society before and after The Purge.  Now, this all begs a lot of logical questions: Why would anyone stay in America during The Purge?  Why not get on a plane and take a 24-hour holiday in a foreign country that doesn’t have the event in order to ensure your survival?  Also, how do the unrelentingly blood thirsty Purgers not commit heinous acts pre and post Purge?  How are they able to shut off these deplorable impulses? 



Maybe I’m reading too much into the series.  The first entry in 2013 sort of waged a war within itself.  It wanted to be a compellingly rendered examination of societal violence and gun control while, at the same time, yearning to be an ultra sleazy John Carpenter styled home invasion schlockfest.  The follow-up entry THE PURGE: ANARCHY was much more finely tuned in the sense that it wholeheartedly embraced it shameless luridness with a real gumption.  THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR proudly continues this series’ ever escalating senselessness to the point of achieving macabre camp value.  Any attempts to ground this story are thrown to the curb.  ELECTION YEAR is a wondrously disturbing romp that continues to deliriously exploit its premise for all its worth.  Like its direct predecessor, this film wears its depravity like a badge of honor.  The never look back tenacity of ELECTION YEAR as an putrid engine to mortify us is kind of embarrassingly commendable.  

Not everyone in this film's world loves The Purge.  One of these brave and enlightened souls is Senator Charlene Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who is running for president on a daring platform to end The Purge once and for all once elected.  Of course, the vile and despotic leaders of the Founding Fathers want none of this, mostly because they secretly use The Purge to eradicate the poor one per cent in order to save money on health care and welfare.  You also know that these Founding Fathers are indeed vile and despotic when one of them refers to the presidential hopeful as a word that rhymes with “hunt,” which all but cements their sleaziness as villains early on.  With the senator becoming popular, the FF go into action by – why, of course! – hiring a white supremacist militia to hunt and kill her before she be elected…but they’ll have a very difficult time doing this, seeing as Charlene’s right hand man and head of security is Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), returning from ANARCHY and still ready to defend himself and others from damn, dirty Purger scum. 

ELECTION YEAR…I dunno…just kind of goes for it with reckless aplomb; it has no pretensions about what kind of film it is, what it’s trying to do, and what kind of audience reaction it’s trying to elicit.  And yes, this is trash cinema that's trying to be about something, to be fair, even though its communication of said messages are laughably broad and eye rollingly heavy handed at times.  You could easily draw parallels with Charlene versus the Founding Fathers as a riff on the whole Hilary Clinton versus Donald Trump presidential race, not to mention that ELECTION YEAR clearly has a lot on its mind about the uber righteous, ultra Christianized political base of the Founding Fathers that solemnly hold up The Purge with the collective zealot like fever of a fire and brimstone pastor.  And there’s a lot of talk in the film about how The Purge is essentially an all out war on the have-nots of America.  ELECTION YEAR’s thematic sermonizing is about as subtle as a baseball bat strike to the cranium. 

Again, ELECTION YEAR doesn’t get too bogged down in taking its speech-ifying seriously.  Ironically, for a film that preaches an anti-gun and anti-violence message, it’s really all about assaulting viewers with grotesque sociopaths in nightmarish Halloween get-ups that savagely go in for their yearly murder-death-kill fixes…and the poor desperate souls that try to defend themselves as best they can from these heinous fringe society beasts.  The performances of the key heroes are kind of thanklessly credible considering all of the hysterically barbaric nonsense that surrounds them.  Frank Grillo is in pure dependable mercenary mode and displays yet again why he’s slowly emerging as a reliably gruff and authentically tough and lethal action hero.  The side characters are a hoot, like FORREST GUMP's Bubba himself, Mykelti Williamson, as poor and down-on-his-luck convenience store owner that hates The Purge with a passion (insurance companies are taking men like him for everything they have by increasing insurance premiums to ridiculous levels on Purge Night Eve) and is not afraid to use assault rifle justice to defend his honor and his store.  He also rather amusingly serves as the audience surrogate voice of reason in the film, frequently commenting on the madness that ensnares him and his allies (“Sorry for having to say this out loud, but what the fuck just happened back there?”).  I was frequently asking the same question all throughout watching ELECTION YEAR. 

I’m a bit embarrassed by how much I enjoyed this movie.  Yet, I’ll never apologize for liking it.  THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR culminates towards a ludicrously over-the-top finale involving the fanatical FF (mostly frothing at the mouths and speaking in borderline tongues) trying to ritualistically sacrifice Charlene on a church altar that literally has to be seen to be believed.  It was at this precise point where this series as a whole fully understands what it is and just joyously goes for absolute ape-shit crazy broke.  On a level of sadistic showmanship, THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR is a decent success; it’s greasy, unhealthy, and cheap fast food cinema that nevertheless goes down reasonably well.  It’s certainly not a fine course fillet mignon meal, but as a piece of Big Mac grindhouse fare, the film’s agreeably tasty in just the right dosage…but only with the right frame of mind/appetite going in.  

THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR proves that not every film that works has to be an elegantly crafted dish.  Trashy junk food can be enjoyable as well.   


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