Writer/director James DeMonaco brings us the third entry in his successful dystopian horror franchise of The Purge with The Purge: Election Year.
Taking place a staggering 18 years after the events of the first film, this entry follows Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) uses the horrifying experience of loosing her family during the purge of 2022 to drive her presidential campaign towards abolishing the annual holiday of ‘The Purge’. Fearful of her influence and potential victory, the NFFA (New Founding Fathers of America) decide to take action and dispose of their rival under the guise of ‘The Purge’ which is due to take place before the next election. Heading Senator Roan’s security detail is Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), who after his own troublesome purge night in 2023 during The Purge: Anarchy wants to ensure ‘The Purge’ is stopped once and for all.
What is noticeable come the end of this latest entry is that it follows a very similar path and formula to its predecessor The Purge: Anarchy. The film starts out with Senator Roan opting to stay at home during ‘The Purge’ rather than seek security in more strongly fortified place, and not before long the force of the NFFA is demonstrated as they force the Senator and Barnes on the run. The rest of the film then takes place on the streets as Roan and Barnes try to survive the night on the run, seeking sanctuary and refuge wherever they can find it. One of the reasons Anarchy worked really well is because it did something completely different to the first film, expanding and exploring different aspects of what happened on purge night. It also changed the locale from the home to the streets which not only provided a refreshing setting, but it also changed the type of film it was by going from a home invasion film to an action thriller. Unfortunately Election Year just did more of the same.
Despite the gruesome ideology of ‘The Purge’, the previous two films haven’t been over explicit in their depictions of violence. Sure lots of people get shot, stabbed, and killed, but it was never overly gratuitous. This time round though we have visible shotgun bucks to the face, and a loyal NFFA member using a victim as a pin cushion on an church altar. For me this isn’t what made The Purge good in the first place, and that it ventures down this path of escalation like many a horror franchise before it is a shame. What is also a noticeable detraction is how crazy the participants in the purges are becoming. Amongst the crazy sh*t that goes down here is a giant guillotine in the middle of an alley, a tripwire connected to a weaponised pendulum, and a fight club with broadswords and axes straight outta Skyrim. Of course you have to be a little unhinged to go out and proactively murder in the first place, but as we all know the scariest people don’t always parade round the streets in extravagant costumes ready to murder, they look like you’re best friend, neighbour or sibling.
On the upside we do get a slightly deeper look into the resistance against the NFFA which started in Anarchy, Edwin Hodge returns as Dante Bishop (the only main recurring character in all three films) replacing Michael Kenneth Williams’s Carmelo Johns as the leader of the movement against the purge. Another twisted facet adding another layer to the series is the addition of ‘Murder Tourists’, people who’ve travelled from all corners of the world to participate in America’s latest tradition. It’s another intriguing concept, but one that is underutilised as a minor plot point to put our protagonists in peril.
The evolution of The Purge series has significantly slowed down with Election Year as we get more of the same in the same way The Hangover II followed The Hangover. The Purge: Anarchy left the series with plenty of material for a sequel, but instead we skip forward 18 years, a time gap that represents missed opportunity. For a series with so much potential to explore there is an element of disappointment. That being said fans of the previous two films might find enough to enjoy from this outing as it is decent, sadly it just isn’t anything new.