2016 – On a night when all crime, including murder, is legal, a rag-tag group of soda-commercial-level diversity must protect a presidential candidate who wants to end the Purge.
I haven’t seen either of the previous Purge movies (2013’s The Purge and 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy), but I think this is likely the best of the lot. Channeling a little early George Romero magic, The Purge: Election Year is a summery blend of action and horror, with a dash of straw political commentary.
The movie takes its time setting up a number of intersecting plots. We have reform-minded Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell – from LOST!) and her security chief Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo – from… uh…), who are trying to evade both the “purgers” and government troops who want to end her candidacy. There’s also deli owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson, who I was trying to place the whole movie and then realized was Bubba from Forrest Gump!), who just wants to defend his store, and former Purge celebrity Laney (Betty Gabriel), who drives around in an armored van trying to help the injured.
The villains are lifted straight from everything Stephen King has ever written: an over-the-top insane minister (Kyle Secor), a white supremacist mercenary (Terry Serpico), and an all-white cadre of politicians called the “New Founding Fathers.” Senator Roan argues that the Purge harms low-income citizens and minorities the most – sorta like the Obama administration – and that the government promotes it to keep the population down and increase gun sales – sorta like the Obama administration.
After seeing the movie, this doesn’t seem like a very good plan. Sure a lot of people get killed, but there’s also a hell of a lot to clean up the next morning. There are fires and corpses all over the place. There’s at least one giant pendulum blade set up in an alleyway. Someone paints “PURGE” in blood on the Lincoln Memorial. I’m guessing the cost of post-Purge cleanup would far outweigh the savings in healthcare and housing… but maybe this is why I’m not a New Founding Father.
Speaking of the NFF, the movie does a really good job of making them as detestable as possible. They’re always filmed in harsh, stony blues and grays, and they refer to our hero Charlie as a “c-word” right away. There’s also something subtly off about them – they’re old, or fat, or sickly-looking, or have a mustache. They’re like those golf course pricks that Michael Douglas runs across in Falling Down. I like a movie where it’s easy to identify who you need to root for.
The main cast, especially Mitchell, Grillo, and Williamson, turn in surprisingly heartfelt performances. The supporting players… good lord. I haven’t seen that much chewing outside of the Grand Floridian lagoon. Special mention goes to Britany Mirabile, who plays a homicidal schoolgirl with all the subtlety of William Shatner on a coke binge. There’s a lot of violence but surprisingly little gore – even a horror movie novice will find little to wince at here. It plays more like a thriller than a true horror film, in that regard.
It also features the best in-movie use of “Party in the USA” I’ve ever heard.