Review: The Purge: Election Year
The Purge: Election Year is stupid. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you know you are stupid and own it, stupid can be good. And like the hard driving prosecutor with a mean streak, this series has learned to channel what would otherwise be a flaw. Self-awareness goes a long way when you are developing a universe that is meant to comment on our own. While it certainly has its shortcomings, if you can get past those, you are in for a relatively fun time.
For the uninitiated, The Purge is a series based on the premise that once a year, there is a national holiday where all crime, including murder, is legal. In this installment, the drama revolves around Senator Charlie Roan (played by Elizabeth Mitchell), who is running for President on a platform of getting rid of the holiday. Her adversaries, the New Founding Fathers of America (the “NFFA”), intend to maintain the status quo and have their sights set on eliminating her on the night of the purge.
Leo Barnes (played by Frank Grillo), the only returning character from The Purge: Anarchy, serves as her head of security and is tasked with helping Senator Roan survive the night. They end up teaming with a diverse cast of new characters to evade the paramilitary forces employed by the NFFA. These characters all work and socialize at a local deli, which they must also protect from marauding purgers.
This series and the premise behind it have an unrivaled amount of potential. It seeks to tackle certain topics ripe for exploration like our societal need for violence, the class system and certain American ideals. This particular entry concerns itself primarily with the idea that the violence itself is senseless and that America has lost its way. One poignant moment comes amid a jubilantly whimsical character skipping around bodies hanged from a tree. Senator Roan looks on and asks, “how did we get here,” which is a question people ask every day in an era with mass-shootings and needless violence.
But for all of its high-minded ideals, this is still a pretty stupid movie. Some of the storylines and characters they jam in don’t heighten the drama and only serve to distract from characters that actually move the needle. The best example of this is the repeated standoffs between a band of teenagers and the solid characters that seek to protect the deli mentioned before. Some of the best moments in the film come from those characters and it was a shame to see their time on screen wasted interacting with nonsense characters seeking their revenge in the form of a candy bar. Yes, this element is as dumb as it sounds and it keeps the experience from being what it could have been. Trim the fat in a few places and fill the void with a more stolid meditation on the depravity of the situation and you’re on much more solid footing.
Narratively, the film is fairly straightforward and conventional. You get the preachy politics and violence that escalates to a crescendo. But along the way, the film breaks somewhat novel new ground with ideas like murder tourism and some of the more inventive (read: sadistic) killing methods characters come up with this time around. It also features dynamic and diverse casting that breaks down certain archetypes. If you are sensitive to violence, this one should probably come with a trigger warning (no pun intended). But if you can sit back and start from a place where you see it as as stupid as it is, you just might have a good time with this one.
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