Starring Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Terry Serpico, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor
3 STARS (out of 5)
In a reality mirroring our own, every year in the US, all crime becomes legal for twelve hours on one night known as ‘Purge Night’. There have been two preceding movies addressing the reasons for such a night existing, while the third instalment observes the political reasons for such a regular purge, while showcasing a class war that runs through the middle of the plot. The Purge: Election Year essentially sees murderous teens and fanatics run riot in bloody and disturbing fashions yet again – but this time around, high profile politicians are at stake. As a result, this third instalment succeeds at upping the stakes and creating definite tension, but its political statements – and some of its characters’ motivations – are far too stark to allow the movie to become a modern-day classic amongst thrillers.
Senator Charlie Roan (Mitchell) is running for US President and pledges to erase the existence of Purge Night from law, not least as a result of having been affected by the murder of members of her family some eighteen years prior during a particularly bloody purge. On one fateful Purge Night, she is body-guarded by Leo Barnes (Grillo), who too has a history of losing family in the annual event – and as the minutes tick by, it becomes clear that Senator Roan is not as safe as she’s been set up to be. What transpires is a frantic scramble through the city to evade rampaging murderers, psychotic schoolchildren and over-zealous fanatics alike – as Purge Night truly uncovers how sadistic people can be – in this mirror universe, at least. Along the way, deli owner Joe (Williamson) and assistant Marco (Soria) find themselves allied with Barnes and Roan, as they struggle to make it through the night to find a safe zone.
As movies go, if you’re looking for tense action riddled with twisted characters and a concept that is still as terrifying as it was two movies ago, you’ll have plenty of fun here. Everything is shot in virtual pitch-blackness save illumination of street lights and artificial displays. The soundtrack is effectively minimal, which works wonders in ramping up the fear – this is a night where anything could happen at any point, and with a host of (in some cases fairly unbelievably) sadistic killers rampaging around, it’s hard not to feel as if you are right there with the protagonists. What sort of society could allow such a law to exist? It’s a movie which owes a lot to the shock value of its premise, and Mitchell is incredibly easy to latch onto as one of a handful of lone voices against the madness. The ensemble cast is generally able and amiable – while a number of the villains that appear are either obnoxious psychopaths or are ‘evil’ for the sake of it. It is the lack of any obvious motivation in some of the pro-Purgers that makes the movie fairly unbelievably – however, it certainly helps the protagonists connect with the audience, and it helps us hate one or two truly repugnant individuals all the same.
The Purge: Election Year - Official Trailer (Universal Pictures)
This being said, it is a movie that sadly falls back on its political undercurrent despite offering high drama and tension where it is needed the most. While the first act is generally very fast-paced and superbly directed, the pacing and direction fall away slightly in the remaining two acts, making for rather plodding scenarios where the audience is left waiting for retribution and action to occur. It all becomes somewhat predictable by the climax; which is a shame given the movie’s strong opening. It thankfully benefits from tense direction and laser-sharp focus on what truly makes human nature terrifying – and it can’t hurt that there is a mostly competent cast at hand to help propel matters along.
The political messages and class war undercurrent may annoy some viewers expecting a more straightforward traipse through a dystopian wasteland – and it can weigh heavy on what is otherwise a generally fine movie – but there are also problems with how the characters conduct themselves, often making infuriating rookie mistakes and odd choices that derail the action from time to time. That being said, in comparison with a similar action movie released this year – London Has Fallen – it offers horror and intrigue when it needs to, and it does so without the need for cheesy dialogue or ham-fisted delivery. It brings to life a truly monstrous situation – and while it still doesn’t feel like it could strike oil in the best places for drama around its concept, it works well as a suitably unnerving, grimy thriller that anyone willing to put a little time in will likely get something resounding back in return. Having already scored big numbers at the box office, it’s clear that it’s connecting with its key audience in the way it had intended to. Worth a watch, but only if you are happy to stomach the concept.