The Purge: Election Year is an OK sequel for die-hard fans of the series, but it won't win any new converts
Picking up two years after its predecessor, The Purge: Election Year is set during a tumultuous and impassioned presidential race in the United States of America. After having witnessed the murder of her family one Purge Night, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) runs as an independent candidate promising to eliminate the "holiday" which allows all crime to be legalized for a period of twelve hours. Desperate to keep their traditions intact, the New Founding Fathers of America - led by their candidate Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor) - agree that they must do whatever it takes to ensure the Purge of 2025 is not the last.
Against the best wishes of her head of security Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), Roan decides to spend Purge Night in her home, locked down and guarded by a team of armed soldiers. When a betrayal occurs and the NFFA attempts to assassinate Roan, Leo must guide the senator through the dangerous streets of Washington, D.C., trying to keep her alive until the Purge is over - so she can hopefully win the election and change America for the better.
Written and directed by James DeMonaco (who also helmed the previous Purge movie), the film is par for the course for a Blumhouse horror franchise installment. The Purge: Election Year is an OK sequel for die-hard fans of the series, but it won't win any new converts. At this point in the Purge franchise's run, DeMonaco knows exactly what it is and doubles down on all the familiar elements to craft a thriller that does have some tense moments, but is still arguably the most ridiculous and over-the-top Purge movie yet.
The script is perhaps the weakest point. Despite the Election Year subtitle (and the infamous tagline "Keep America Great"), the political angle is greatly underserved in the narrative. It exists more as a bookend to the story as opposed to the main through line, and after the opening moments, the movie plays out like a standard Purge film. Those familiar with the earlier movies will recognize certain beats (particularly from 2014's The Purge: Anarchy) that are repeated at the expense of running in a new direction. An obvious difference, of course, is that Roan is slightly more "important" than a typical citizen outside on Purge Night (which the film consistently reminds the audience), but that extra bit of drama isn't quite enough to help Election Year stand out from what's come before.
One area where Election Year improves upon Anarchy is with the main characters, particularly the newcomers. Roan is a sympathetic lead as a kindhearted politician out to do the right thing. Though Mitchell doesn't have too much depth to explore, she is still an easy protagonist to root for. Much of the tension comes from her participation in the action sequences, as it's clearly established she is one of the few willing to do something about the damage the Purge causes. Mykelti Williamson is also a highlight as deli owner Joe Dixon, serving as the comic relief. Joe's relationship with Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) provides Election Year with a stronger emotional component than previous Purge entries; their dynamic gives the film some heart and weight, allowing audiences to become invested in what's happening. Rounding out the ensemble are Grillo and Betty Gabriel as Laney Rucker, an anti-Purge activist. They are solid in their roles, but aren't given that much to do. This is disappointing, considering that Grillo was the most interesting character in Anarchy.
The Purge franchise has always been one of the more absurd horror properties, and those tendencies are dialed up to 11 for Election Year. Some viewers may find the antagonistic Purgers more like cartoon characters than intimidating threats. This is readily apparent in the portrayal of the NFFA and their rich, upper-class supporters (see: the "Purge Mass"). Subtlety is most definitely not the film's strong suit, as clear racial and socioeconomic lines are drawn to establish the core conflict. Even for a film in this series, some of the actions and motivations stretch the realm of believability, which diminishes the impact the film could have had. Released in a time when the real world is going through its own volatile presidential campaign cycle, there was an opportunity here for some hard-hitting social commentary. Unfortunately, Election Year eschews from this component in favor of something more typical as it moves along. After three installments, the premise of this somewhat intriguing concept seems to have been played out and it's worth wondering what else DeMonaco can do with it.
In the end, The Purge: Election Year is just what moviegoers would expect a third Purge film to be. It delivers serviceable horrors and thrills while trying to blend multiple genres, but ultimately comes short of those aspirations. Those who have been onboard with the series from the beginning will certainly get a kick out of it, but the uninitiated may find it difficult to take seriously. The filmmakers don't really push for any new ground here, settling for a run-of-the-mill followup that fits within its target niche, but never transcends it. Even though some of the characters strike a chord, none of them are exactly fleshed out, meaning there isn't a whole lot to connect with. Purge fans can make the trip to the theater to see how this trilogy continues, but those on the fence can wait for home media to take part in the latest Purge Night.
The Purge: Election Year is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 105 minutes and is rated R for disturbing bloody violence and strong language.
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