There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about the upcoming election and we now know that it’s between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It is also no secret that the trailer to this film used the idea of a Trump presidency to push the idea of the film, even using a variation on “Make America Great Again.” Therefore, the film has a ton of social commentary opportunities with this premise. Does it take advantage of this? Yes and no.
The plot concerns the commencement of the annual Purge, a 12-hour period every year in which all crime becomes legal (“including murder” as the commercial says but that’s always the main focus of course). The real purpose behind it is to help the economy by saving money on welfare and government finance programs due to all the low-income families that will ultimately be killed as a result of this event. One idealistic senator in particular (Elizabeth Mitchell) is running for president based on a platform of cancelling the Purge because it is obviously just a legal loophole to kill off poor people. Unfortunately, her political opponent (Kyle Secor) is solidly behind the cause and lifts the ban on Class 10 government officials, leaving Senator Roan prone to an attack despite the best efforts of her security guard, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo). Defectors in Roan’s security team means that she and Leo must go on the run. Meanwhile, we also get a side story involving a deli owner named Joe (Mykelti Williamson) and his ragtag group of co-workers looking to survive throughout the night.
I enjoyed The Purge, The Purge: Anarchy a little less so and The Purge: Election Year a little bit less than the previous two. It’s not a bad film and I should note that a good attempt is made to nail some biting social commentary but there are some flaws that slow it down. First of all, the acting is only so-so. I will say that Elizabeth Mitchell and Frank Grillo are decent. Mitchell has come a long way since her film debut in Gia and she does well as the calm center of the film. Frank Grillo was also in the previous Purge film and once again proves to be a pretty damn cool badass character. That’s all I can really say about him. He kicks ass and his character development is one of the strongest in the film. Mykelti Williamson is the other actor who stands out for me. He plays Joe, a proud man but also a realist who doesn’t think the election will truly change anything for the better. His character progresses in a fairly cool manner and the conclusion is logical and impressive. The rest of the cast are pretty ho-hum. The ones that stand out as particularly bad though are the actors that appear on-screen for a short amount of time like these two young girls who attempt to shoplift in Joe’s store and then appear later as a pair of crazed killers on Purge night. One of the two girls is so incredibly over-the-top that I wanted their characters to be killed off not only because they were villainous but because it meant that their terrible acting would end. Another one that really sticks out for me is a government board member that appears near the beginning of the film. Every time he swore it sounded incredibly forced and as if he was saying the word for the first time and over-emphasizing its effectiveness.
The script has some moments of inspired political satire and how could it not with a premise like this? The idea of martyrdom is discussed when the characters are dealing with how they should take down this idea of the Purge and we hear some new ideas not previously explored in the first two films. There are some pretty tacky things in the script though that got on my nerves. Some of the dialogue is terrible, especially some of the things that Mykelti is forced to say when he drops a few one-liners. Kudos to him though because Mykelti is such a good actor that he can make most of those lines come across as genuine. The situations can feel a bit forced at times too as we have an occasional issue with characters showing up in the nick of time to make the save. I can accept that in most horror/thriller films but this is one that strives to be more than that so I have to dock a few points here for that. There were also a few moments that were really corny and/or over-the-top, which stuck out amongst some of the more intelligent moments and clever dialogue.
Overall, it’s an entertaining film with some major flaws at times but still not enough to hamper your enjoyment of the film as a fun diversion with some smarts. Check it out but don’t expect it to be a masterpiece or anything.
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)