The Purge: Election Year Review
Last night we sat down to the the final chapter in The Purge trilogy – a franchise that we have adored from 2013’s The Purge through to the even more exceptional The Purge: Anarchy (which, in our opinion, elevated the franchise immensely). Being such fervent fans, how the franchise’s third and final instalment played out was important to us. Therefore, it was with high anticipation that we sat down to James DeMonaco’s long-awaited entry. Below you will find our spoiler-heavy review of The Purge: Election Year.
Given the trailer content that the marketing team had been releasing in the run up to the film’s release, as well as the relative seriousness of The Purge: Anarchy, you might understand why we went into this film expecting something close to a serious political narrative, layered with heavy action. The goal of this film is a serious one, after all: to prevent an assassination and to end The Purge for good. From early on, however, the film makes clear from its hammy one liners and regular humour that it’s not aiming for serious discourse at all, and is instead gunning for the comedy angle.
This is no bad thing at all, especially given how arguably out-there the film’s core concept is. It just jarred us a little, as Purge fans, given our expectations that were formed upon our love of the previous two films. While watching the film, we first interpreted the cheesy writing and astonishingly hammy reactions from characters (often the audience would actively laugh seemingly at the film, rather than with it) as being overlooked flaws within the film, which immediately put a bad taste in our mouths for what was to come. As the film progressed, however, we grew to realise that these excessively cheesy comic moments were by design, with the filmmakers seemingly going for the 80s-esque cheese approach (think They Live!), rather than accidentally steering into this.
Once we realised the writers’ intent and embraced the film as a comedy, this opened up our enjoyment of the film immensely. Then once the action began to follow thick and fast (with a similar level of quality and effectiveness to The Purge: Anarchy), that’s when the James DeMonaco’s film began to find its feet and truly shine for us. What DeMonaco has made here is a film that echoes all of the thrills from the previous film, while layering overt comedy heavily on top. What results is something very enjoyable indeed and we can imagine looking forward to this third instalment when marathoning the entire trilogy in the future.
One of the strongest choices for The Purge: Election Year was the decision to retain the character of Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), who shone in The Purge: Anarchy and who shines here too as a the bodyguard who will go to any lengths to protect his Senator. Elizabeth Mitchell is equally as perfect a choice, in her casting as Senator Charlie Roan. We adored Mitchell in LOST and saw how wonderfully subtle and exceptional her acting quality could be within that show, and here she brings that accomplished acting style again; offering an intelligent and compassionate character who everyone truly cares about saving, despite the fact that (like many of the characters) we only met her at the beginning of this film.
Another strong character in the narrative was Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson), who acts as the man just trying to protect his convenience store, who ends up drawn into protecting the Senator. We literally heard the audience groan aloud when bad things happened to this character and some of the audience told us that they simply fell in love with him, even more so than Leo, this time around. Accompanying Dixon’s character is the usual mix of unknowns (particularly diversified this time around), who all stand out well in their own right and provide memorable characters.
To circle back to the comedy factor, there is without doubt a heavy racial lilt to the humour that you’ll find within this film. Many of the jokes that spawned the loudest eruptions of laughter from the audience where spoken by Joe and were about African American people’s habits and inclinations (such as him comparing their bereft situation to them being a bucket of chicken, about to be set upon by hungry African Americans). One could argue that racist humour (even spoken by an African American) is not the most ideal kind of humour to opt for, but not all of the jokes in the film lean on this and often the comedy simply just comes from an expression on a character’s face, or a simple serious order barked from Leo.
Despite the overt comedy and action, we’re pleased to report that there are subtleties to the film too. One of the best of these was the film’s choice to avoid any obvious romantic narrative between Leo and Charlie, either during the mission or after The Purge is over. Instead we got one simple little arm graze, near the film’s close, and a marginal smile from Leo, which told us all we needed to know. We loved this subtle little nod, as it’s a romance that we very much wanted to see, but equally it’s not something that should get in the way when you’re fighting for your lives. This little arm touch was exactly the right level of romantic delivery and open ambiguity, for us, and we didn’t expect such subtle interplay for the film.
Narratively, the film also holds some rather stunning and surprising turns. Other than just the jumpy moments that throw our characters into random danger, there are sub-plots about such things as trying to prevent the assassination of the opposing candidate Minister Edwidge Owens. This fully opens up the narrative into further moral turmoil and we loved the complexity that this and other plot twists added to the story.
As big fans of the franchise we’ve come away happy that The Purge: Election Year sits among the trilogy. After initially being surprised by the heavy comic tone of the film (having gone in expecting it to be a more serious, political conclusion), by the end we were happy for it, as it makes the entire trilogy even more diverse (the three films tackling horror, then action, then comedy, in that order). While we do feel that some of the hammy/cheesy content in the film is of the wrong, ineffective kind, overall we found The Purge: Election Year to be an exciting, hilarious and thrilling conclusion that Purge fans will be happy with.
Image credits: Blumhouse Productions, Platinum Dunes, Universal Pictures, Why Not Productions