Director: James DeMonaco
Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Betty Gabriel
Running Time: 109 minutes
Release Date: August 26th
‘Cunt’, ‘pussy’ and ‘bitch’ – select terms batted around when referring to women in the opening minutes of The Purge: Election Year, a terrifically tired and muddled stumble that is often either sexist or racist and always very, very dumb indeed.
‘Just how offensive and moronic are we talking here, Dave?’
Glad you asked, friend. If the above didn’t raise an eyebrow, how about this witty rejoinder:
“There’s a whole bunch of Negros coming our way, and we’re sitting here like a big ol’ bucket of chicken.”
A black guy blurts it out and said collective gets to gleefully slaughter some white supremacists shortly afterwards so it’s fine, right? Laugh into your popcorn and don’t trouble yourself with soul-searching. James DeMonaco, author of this weak series, certainly didn’t.
For the uninitiated, the Purge films posit the idea that all crime is legal for a 12-hour spell one night a year in a reformed America. Admittedly a decent premise, DeMonaco nonetheless tripped right out of the gate by confining the premise to a home invasion flick featuring the discount Tom Cruise himself, Ethan Hawke. Follow-up The Purge: Anarchy made a better fist of things, bringing the action outside and giving Frank Grillo the chance to get his unofficial Punisher on before Jon Bernthal stole his thunder.
Grizzled as ever but with no real arc to speak of this time, Grillo’s Leo Barnes returns to protect idealistic Presidential candidate Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell of Lost fame) from certain death. Having survived the massacre of her family 18 years prior at the hands of a T-Rex-loving psychopath who clearly thought Heath Ledger’s Joker was the hypest shit imaginable, she’s understandably out to put a stop to the bloodshed. Throw in a tough deli owner with a heart of gold (Mykelti Williamson, utterer of the charming aforementioned bucket of chicken line and several other questionable musings), his assistant Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) and their former gang member turned EMT friend Laney (Betty Gabriel), and baby you got a stew going.
With the focus on minority groups scrambling to survive in the face of their picket fence-white oppressors, DeMonaco thinks he’s Saying Something here. Bless. Indeed, his dystopian vision of Red, White and Blue is a Donald Trump wet dream but are we really looking to the Purge movies for political satire? This is a vehicle in which we glimpse a band of masked villains (DeMonaco must attend masquerade balls on the regular) execute a poor soul via an alley-based guillotine. Another backstreet plays host to a swinging pendulum. Elsewhere, fitful ghouls spirit about in a haze beneath a tree of hanging bodies like a particularly morbid Lana Del Rey video. Trying to marry all of this with cutting social commentary requires a great deal more skill than DeMonaco possesses, especially when his Christ-like saviour figure looks like she could chill with the 1%.
His punches glance on occasion, though. A woman sitting on a bench muttering to herself as a flame-soaked corpse lies beneath here, a bejewelled Kalashnikov-toting pack of bloodied prom queens slow-motion exiting a car drenched in fairy lights to the strains of Miley Cyrus pop jam ‘Party In The USA’ there. Even then the director flubs, lingering much too long after the point is made in the case of said nightmarish girl gang and overcooking an earlier clever misdirect with a smug undercurrent of ‘America, fuck yeah’.
But hey, this is the product of Blumhouse Productions and Platinum Dunes, so that means irritating jump scares, cheap aesthetic, low budget and high profit. The Purge, like Saw and Paranormal Activity before it, is what it is, but the audience really should start thinking about voting with their wallet at this point.