The Purge is an odd little horror series. It sort of stands apart from everything else that comes and goes around, buoyed by its still interesting premise, it survives on its B-Movie shocks and a relatively diverse cast. It’s a testament to the filmmakers that three films in and there’s no sign of fatigue with this series and maybe it’s because the premise is such a rich one or because the film has sharp, colourful design that makes it remarkably eye catching.
Which isn’t to say it’s necessarily good, the films have sort of stayed in the mid-range section of popularity, making money but dividing critics and though I’ve been drawn in by the premise and the marketing campaign for each film, I’ve come away underwhelmed twice before.
That’s why I’m pretty happy to say that I rather enjoyed The Purge: Election Year. Whereas the first two started well and became less interesting as they went along, I felt that this third instalment of the surely continuing horror franchise managed to sustain my interest for its entire runtime.
It’s flawed, yes. Cheesy, yes. Cliched, you betcha. But I came away having been thoroughly entertained.
There were some genuine big jumps here and then, plenty of wince-inducing gory moments and even some bad-ass, maybe I shouldn’t be clapping here but who cares moments.
The story is simple, 15 years after witnessing her whole family get murdered on a Purge night Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is inches away from the presidency and the abolition of The Purge, yet her opponents have other ideas, repealing the law that says you can’t attack high-ranking officials on Purge night, putting Roan in danger.
Back from the last film, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) is her bodyguard and when her safe house is compromised, he must lead her through the streets of Washington to safety. Along the way, the pair come across Joe Dixon and his friends/family who are defending their little shop from Purgers and together they must survive the night together.
There’s nothing really in the plot to suggest that this is an improvement from the last films but I’d go as far to say that you don’t really need to have seen the first two to watch this. The only connection to the last one, Frank Grillo’s’ Leo Barnes, has only a few lines of dialogue that refer back and they could just as easily be there in a standalone film.
Which is strange because all three films have been written and directed by James DeMonaco, giving the series a contained consistency and an almost auteurial ability to tell a different set of stories with each one. Considering I was a little disappointed with the first two, I’d say this one is your best bet for a good standalone thrill ride.
Nothing is particularly subtle in a Purge movie and this is no exception. There’s even a character who looks exactly like Donald Trump, just without hair. Really! It’s all very prescient.
The political sub-text without the sub is there and I liked how it satirised society and politics, even if it was heavy handed.
The cinematography was nice, very of this age, slow-mo and drenched in neon, whilst some of the music choices worked quite well.
Elizabeth Mitchells’ Senator might be pretty generic, but at least she was a decently strong female character whose rescue by a male made didn’t feel damsel in distressy. She’s a Senator campaigning against the Purge.
The film also sets up a specific divide between lower and upper class and black and white. All the people of colour are working class, which seems like a specific intention to highlight our society, despite it feeling a little too on the nose.
The film could’ve been a little more sensitive in this area but when the dialogue is so cheesy and ridiculous, you roll your eyes more than worry.
In the end, it was over the top and occasionally very campy and laughable, full blooded and ridiculous but I had rollicking a good time, which I really wasn’t expecting.