Film Review: The Purge: Election Year (dir by James DeMonaco)


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I had really high hopes for The Purge: Election Year.

While the first Purge film was definitely flawed, it still had an interesting and thought-provoking premise behind it.  What would we do, the film forced us to ask, if we could do anything we wanted to for one night out of the year?  Would you hide in your house or would you go out and randomly kill people?  Yes, The Purge had its flaws but it was an interesting film.

And then, in 2014, The Purge: Anarchy was released.  Anarchy was one of the best films of 2014 (a film that saw no shortage of great films).  It was a big, loud, and over-the-top masterpiece of the pulp imagination, one that managed to be as thought-provoking as the first film while also keeping audiences entertained.  It was a political movie, perhaps one of the most overtly political to be released over the past ten years.  And yet, it was also amazingly entertaining.  By further exploring the type of society that would come up with something like an annual Purge, Anarchy forced audiences to think even as it gave them reasons to cheer and hiss.  For many viewers, it also served as an introduction to a tough and grizzled actor named Frank Grillo.  In the role of the enigmatic but ultimately good-hearted Leo Barnes, Frank Grillo gave an outstanding performance.

Well, The Purge: Election Year continues its exploration of the culture behind the Purge.  And Frank Grillo is back as Leo.  It should be said that, just as he did in Anarchy, Grillo supplies Election Year with some of its best moments.  Much like Clint Eastwood, Grillo can communicate an entire backstory just be squinting his eyes.

But overall, Election Year is a disappointment.  As I watched it, I found myself wondering if maybe director James DeMonaco should have quit when he was ahead and ended the series with Anarchy.  Anarchy pushed the idea behind The Purge about as far as it could go and it is perhaps not surprising that Election Year often feels like a rehash that was constructed out of leftovers.

Election Year finds Leo working as head of security for U.S. Sen. Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell).  Charlie, who saw her family massacred during an earlier purge, is running for President on an anti-Purge platform and it appears that she’s about to overtake the candidate of the New Founding Fathers, the Rev. Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor).  The New Founding Fathers decide that the best way to take care of Charlie would be to assassinate her on Purge Night.  They announce that, for the first time since the Purge began, government leaders will no longer be granted immunity.

In short, anyone can be killed!

Leo’s idea is for Charlie to stay inside during Purge Night but, if that happened, there wouldn’t be a movie.  Naturally, Leo and Charlie eventually end up on the streets and they get to witness a few surreal and violent moments, none of which have quite the impact of anything we previously saw in Anarchy.  They are given some assistance by a deli owner (Mykleti Williamson) and, naturally, they meet up with rebel leader Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge).  Just like in the previous film, Leo is eventually forced to decide between purging and showing mercy.

And it’s really never that interesting.  The whole film just falls flat.  The first two Purge film worked because they convinced you that something like The Purge could actually happen.  When, at the end of Anarchy, Leo chose not to murder someone, it felt like a great moment because you truly believed that Leo could have gotten away with murder if he wanted to.  But Election Day is never convinces you that you’re watching anything more than a standard issue sequel.  With the exception of Frank Grillo and Kyle Secor (more about him in a moment), none of the actors are particularly memorable or believable.  In fact, Mykelti Williamson gives a performance that is almost amazingly bad.

I think a huge part of the problem is that the character of Charlie is never credible.  Elizabeth Mitchell is a good actress and has appeared in some of my favorite TV shows (she was Juliet on Lost, for instance) but you never believe that she’s a dynamic senator who is destined to save America from itself.  Every character in the film has at least one moment in which he or she is required to talk about how much they love Charlie.  The film spends so much time worshipping her that it apparently forgot to make her believable.

(It’s hard not to compare Election Year to Anarchy.  Anarchy advocated revolution.  Election Year argues that the system will eventually correct itself, going so far as to present the revolutionaries as almost being villains because they’re not properly deferential to a wealthy white liberal.)

However, I do have to say that Election Year is occasionally elevated by the thoroughly over-the-top performance of an actor named Kyle Secor.  It’s almost as if Secor alone understood that Election Year needed a jolt of pure adrenaline and, at the end of the film, he goes out of his way to provide it.  He bulges his eyes.  He shrieks out his lines.  His entire body shakes and it’s damn near brilliant.  He’s a lot of fun and his performance is probably the most entertaining thing about Election Year.

Undoubtedly, there will eventually be a sequel to Election Year.  Hopefully, it’ll be an improvement.

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For Your Consideration #2: The Purge: Anarchy (dir by James DeMonaco)


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Yes, I know what you’re saying.

“Seriously, Lisa!?  We should give awards consideration to The Purge: Anarchy!?  Are you serious!?”

Yes, actually I am quite serious.  Notice that I didn’t say that we should necessarily give The Purge: Anarchy any awards or that we should even nominate it.  I just said consideration.  For whatever flaws that The Purge: Anarchy may have, it’s actually one of the better and, in its way, one of the more thought-provoking mainstream American films released this year.  Working within the guise of being a simple genre film, The Purge: Anarchy is one of the few films to give serious consideration to the politics and culture that could both lead to and result from dystopia.

What I’m saying is that — despite what the critics may have said last summer — The Purge: Anarchy is actually one of the most subversive and intellectually curious films released this year.  You just have to be willing to look past all of the action conventions and instead focus on the film’s subtext.

The Purge: Anarchy takes place one year after the end of the first Purge film.  America is still led by the New Founding Fathers and every year, for one night, all crime is legal.  As the national media constantly assures everyone, the Purge is responsible for every good thing about America.  And even though there are a few rebels who claim that the Purge is not necessarily a good thing, most people chose to believe that — as long as it’s government-sanctioned — it’s for the best.

Whereas the first Purge film took place solely inside one family’s house and focused on the domestic melodrama within, The Purge: Anarchy focuses on what goes on outside of the gated sanctuaries of the rich.  As quickly becomes apparent, the Purge is less about purging negative feelings and more about keeping the non-rich, non-white population under control.  While the poor kill each other in the streets, the rich pay for the privilege to kill poverty-stricken “volunteers” in the safety of their own homes.  (Some of the volunteers agree to die out of the hope that their family will be sent some money.  Most are just rounded up on the streets, killed, and forgotten.)

Perhaps even more so than the first film, The Purge: Anarchy works because it feels so plausible.  We live in a society where we are continually told that moral rights and wrongs can be determined by man-made laws.  When a man is filmed being literally choked to death by a pack of police officers, we’re told that it was the man’s fault because he was failing to respect authority and many choose to believe it because “the law is the law.”  (Never mind, of course, whether the law is being fairly applied or makes any sense to begin with.)  If a man in uniform is murdered, it’s rightfully called a crime.  If a man in uniform commits a murder, we’re told it’s simply a part of the job.

And so, that’s why I suggest that The Purge: Anarchy deserves greater consideration than it’s been given.  Yes, it is a genre film and yes, it is an installment in an action franchise.  However, it’s also far closer to the truth than many people are willing to acknowledge.

The Purge: Anarchy Trailer #2: Grillo Strikes back


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Last summer’s surprise hit, The Purge, was something that ended up being better than it should’ve been. Using a premise that the United States of America has a yearly 12-hour event where all crimes are legal in order for the population to vent their frustrations was an interesting one. The fact that this event was cooked up by what the film calls America’s Second Founding Fathers was a nice touch.

The film itself started well enough but ended up becoming another take on the home invasion trope. At least, the box office success of the film meant a sequel was quickly greenlit. What we have with The Purge: Anarchy takes the original film’s premise and goes much wider in scope and scale. Instead of the film using a home invasion premise we now go the “Most Dangerous Game” route. If we’re to believe what the latest trailer is showing it’s that the Purge Event might be something cooked up by those rich and powerful.

We also have the very awesome Frank Grillo channeling his inner Frank Castle and using the Purge event to find those who killed his son in the year’s previous Purge.

This sequel has me more excited for it than I probably should, but if the film pulls off half of what this trailer promises then I’ll be satisfied.

Oh, if The Purge was real then people better not be trying to give me a visit because I’m ready.