The experience of watching The Purge: Election Year actually restored a little of my faith in humanity. Often during a movie like this, a rowdy audience cheers for the bad guys, clapping inappropriately when they perform some particularly awful act. During this movie, though, there was applause not once, but twice, when the bad guys got what was coming to them. Far be it for me to be cynical, but it’s getting harder and harder these days to not be.
I would ordinarily identify with the heroine, Senator Charlene “Charlie” Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost) who’s running for President of the United States on an anti-Purge platform. The lone surviving member of her family from “Purge Night” 18 years ago, she believes “we can do better.” It’s heart-warming to see that the audience at the screening I attended identified with her, as well. It may reflect a sentiment resulting from the abysmal state of our actual current election.
The NFFA (New Founding Fathers of America) stands by the Purge. One night a year, for 12 hours, the public is free to commit any crime without fear of punishment. We learned in the original The Purge that private citizens could make a lot of money on Purge Night. And we learned in The Purge: Anarchy that an ulterior motive of the NFFA was to weed out the indigent because the country cannot afford to take care of them.
In my reviews for both those movies, I lamented that a great idea was squandered and the filmmakers didn’t quite provide a story that took full advantage of the concept. I believe returning writer and director James DeMonaco has finally done it here, though, and this Purge is my favorite of the three. It fully explores all facets of an alternative future and gives us for the first time a person and a purpose to root for.
It’s just icing on the cake, though, because ultimately the Purge movies, regardless of their set-ups, are just simple survival thrillers. I get more out of them when there’s some substance behind the action, but it can be argued that they’re not lacking in action and suspense even in absence of substance. This one, though, seems even better than the other two in that area. There are more twists, turns and unpredictable actions this time.
Frank Grillo returns as Sergeant Leo Barnes. In The Purge: Anarchy, he was on the street walking the fine line between purging and not purging, based on the death of his son. In The Purge: Election Year, he’s 100% no-Purge and is Senator Roan’s one trustworthy security agent. That’s not a spoiler, if you don’t see betrayal coming from the ruthless NFFA with its endless financial resources and tyrannical grip on the country, then you deserve the point to be spoiled.
The NFFA alters the rules of Purge Night for the first time since its inception, providing no exceptions for those who can be victims. This allows them to eliminate their competition in the election and send covert military strike forces to assassinate Senator Roan. Underground leaders on the other side have the same idea, though, and plan to assassinate an NFFA leader at an elite Purge Night “religious” service.
It all comes together in a tense gunfight at the church. There’s actually some dialog and logic expressed among the action that’s welcome in the proceedings. Even if Senator Roan sounds naïve, it’s her against everyone and you really want her to come out on top. We do see the result of her efforts in a “two months later” epilogue. Everything could be tied up to conclude the franchise at a trilogy; however, the final voiceover indicates there could be more…