It’s easy to tell when a franchise has lost its luster. Things begin to feel redundant and the themes start to lose subtlety. When The Purge was released in 2013, it created an interesting concept. What if all crime, even murder, was legal for one 12-hour period each year? The Purge: Anarchy and Election Year expanded upon that concept. But having milked that premise in a trilogy, not even a prequel can keep this series from starting to feel stale.
The First Purge takes place nearly a decade before the first film. With the aid of a psychoanalyst (Marisa Tomei), the radical government regime known as the New Founding Fathers of America decide to use Staten Island, New York for the first experimental purge. Once they realize more citizens are interested in partying rather than committing murder, the NFFA takes matters into their own hands by bringing in trained killers and white supremacists. Caught in the chaos are an activist (Lex Scott Davis) and her drug dealing brother (Joivan Wade), a single mother (Lauren Velez), and the island’s biggest kingpin (Y’lan Noel).
In case it wasn’t made clear earlier in this review, The First Purge is redundant and lacks any subtlety. There is virtually nothing in this film that will be considered refreshing or exciting to anyone who has seen any other Purge movie. We’ve already seen both skilled combatants and mere civilians stuck in the streets during the Purge in two other movies, so it adds no real intrigue here. The concept of the government masquerading as purgers as a means of population control has also been used before. So aside from gangster movie cliches, more creepy masks, and some fresh faces with decent acting chops, there’s absolutely nothing this movie has to add.
What makes matters worse is the ending. Y’Lan Noel’s character going full John Wick to save his friends from a pack of neo-Nazis in an apartment building, makes the film go from typical Purge movie to an outright ridiculous 90’s Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. If all the creators of this franchise can do is come up with different ways to get people out on the streets during the Purge, then it is definitely time to put it to rest before it gets any more unbearable.
FINAL GRADE: D
Despite having a unique premise, the first Purge movie did little to establish itself as anything more than a more gruesome reboot of Panic Room. But 2014’s Purge: Anarchy made the necessary improvements to make the series standout, mainly by expanding the characters and scope while also hammering home the underlying political allegory. The Purge: Election Year seeks to continue that good fortune and keep this popular film franchise from falling back into the mediocre doldrums of most modern day films in the horror genre.
You don’t have to see the previous Purge movies to get what’s going on. In the near future, America has an annual twelve hour period known as the Purge, where all crime including murder is legal. The horrendous act is sanctioned by a government ran by elitists known as the New Founding Fathers. In Purge: Election Year a senator (Elizabeth Mitchell), whose family was murdered during the Purge when she was a teen, is threatening to win the upcoming Presidential election and end the violent practice. This obviously makes her the target of the New Founding Fathers, and they set out to eliminate her during the Purge. Her only protection is her bodyguard (Frank Grillo reprising his role from Anarchy), and a few everyday citizens.
There is plenty to like about this movie if you’re in to the action-horror genre. The action is intense and anything but boring and most of the characters involved are likeable even if they are relatively generic. There is no greater example of this than Mykelti Williamson’s performance as store clerk, Joe Dixon. The entire character’s arc follows a wholly predictable pattern, but the endearing performance makes every cliché line feel genuine and humorous more times than not. The likability of the characters is just barely enough to get through some of the more cartoony moments of the movie.
The biggest problem with The Purge: Election Year is that it just isn’t different enough from Anarchy. Once again, a skilled battle weary character has to navigate through violent streets with the aid of every day citizens. Even the ending feels too familiar to the previous film. The too often over-the-top moments make it feel a bit less authentic than the previous installments as well. But while the leap in quality doesn’t match the gap between Purge 1 & 2, there’s enough here to be entertained. And it’s also worth noting that the inevitable sequel has a half-decent set up.
FINAL GRADE: B-