“The Purge” franchise began in 2013 with an intimate story of a family fighting for survival in a world where the government has declared nothing is illegal for one night. One man’s act of compassion puts his family in danger.
The story got bigger with “Purge: Anarchy” where the focus shifted to the city streets. Social issues were pushed to the forefront as it was revealed the night was just a way of masking how the government was using the legalized killing to reduce the homeless and poor population. This mix of violence and morality made for a nice blend.
James DeMonaco, who wrote and directed all three “Purge” films, tries to mine some personal connections through Joe (Mykelti Williamson), the owner of a small deli. He’s a man with a checkered past but a big heart when it comes to his community.
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Joe and a few of his buddies come to the aid of Sen. Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a presidential candidate running on the platform of abolishing Purge Night. She gets to experience the carnage on the ground level when she becomes the target of the political party opposing her.
Despite the predictability of the story, DeMonaco does an impressive job of building the intensity. He banks even heavier on the story being set in a world where anyone can be a killer and often is. Watching his movies is like walking through a Halloween haunted house maze: You know the scares are coming, but they still catch you off guard.
The high point of the violence comes outside Joe’s deli when young women show up to avenge an incident from earlier in the day. The blood-covered women, driven to violence by an insignificant situation, are the best representation of the insanity of Purge Night in the film.
Where DeMonaco stumbles is with the increase of social and political themes. In an effort to make those behind the Purge as evil as possible, DeMonaco paints them as being a blend of psychopathy, Nazism, racism and religious zealotry.
This diminishes the potential threats. Part of the strength of the original “Purge” was that those attacking could be your next-door neighbors. It’s the kind of situation that feels relatable. The third film loses that personal touch.
The director/writer does use the grizzled Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) as the link between the second and third movie. He’s volunteered to protect the senator because he wants to see the Purge end. Exploring that link would have been more interesting than the bloated tale that drives “Election Year.”
“The Purge: Election Year” has its moments. And the tension the director/writer has infused in the story is relentless. It’s just the unnecessary efforts to make the story bigger, coupled with a predictable plot, that leave it the least compelling of the “Purge” movies.
It’s time to consider purging this franchise.