I’d like to see the casting call for a Purge film. The actors in the movies are always so unrealistically intense that I’d like to see the auditions that went too far. Nearly every performance in the franchise seems to lack any self-awareness and focuses almost entirely on surface-level creepiness. Maybe in order to get this type of strange performance they hold secret auditions at a different casting call and everyone who overacts gets a callback for The Purge. Or maybe I’m overthinking things. Much like these movies, the less you think about the logistics of the idea, the more enjoyable it becomes.
By now, the core concept to The Purge should be quite well-known. In a dystopian America, all crimes, including murder, are legal for just one night. Of course, it might be more enjoyable to view all of the characters as evil psychopaths, because murder seems to be the end goal for everyone who goes ‘purging’. There is no white collar crime, and the only way to get the true experience is by killing. Maybe this is all a scheme by the New Founding Fathers, the ones who instituted ‘The Purge’, as a way to reduce poverty and maintaining power. That’s the movie’s excuse, but the more that you think about it, the stupider it becomes. That’s why it is so important to not think too much about the logic of the film’s plot, for your own sake.
The problem here is that The Purge: Election Day seems to be inviting more questions than it answers. It’s the third film in the franchise (I want so badly to say trilogy, but we’ll have to hold our breath for the next few summers), and there is a grassroots movement to get rid of ‘The Purge’. An independent candidate, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), is running on the platform to get rid of the national holiday, and she is gaining steady support. In effort to not lose their positions of power, the New Founding Fathers of America remove the exemption law for high-ranking government employees, and launch an assassination attempt on the senator.
Because of this political focus, the movie differentiates itself by giving a behind-the-scenes look at the political influencers behind ‘The Purge’. It also creates a lot of questions about the logistics of the world. However, these questions could be easily ignored if the movie was saying anything worthwhile. The main points the movie is making are that corruption, inequality, and murder are bad. That’s disappointing because even with a ridiculous concept, some legitimate points could be made. I think it would have been cool to tap into some of the different social and economic issues, rather than just that the government is corrupt. This would also give the audience something more to think about than just the plot.
However, if the rules of the world don’t make too much sense, the film must rely on a sense of catharsis to be marketable to its audience. In theory, the storyline for this film should raise the stakes (and therefore the catharsis) because the survival story not only involves the protagonist, but the country as a whole. There could have been some nice juxtaposition between the idealism of the political world and the insanity of the evening, but instead everything seems far too tame. Ultimately, The Purge: Election Year is lacking the heart and intensity to create the engaging experience required for the catharsis to pay off.
One glimmer of hope is found in Frank Grillo reprising his role as Leo Barnes (aka The Sergeant) from The Purge: Anarchy. In the previous installment, he was the action hero the movie needed to hold all of the insanity together. However, while the previous film basked in the glory of its unpredictability, this movie seems to be too much of a standard chase to really demand the effects of the Grill-meister. The rest of the characters are fine. The other protagonists have defined roles and the ‘purgers’ are blatant caricatures that allow the audience to feel almost a little relieved when they meet their gory end.
But the biggest problem with the movie is that it doesn’t seem to have a great sense of its surroundings. The editing is a little too haphazard, and the camerawork has too many close-ups. While this frenetic and constant movement might have been great for the last film, this movie needs a much different style. It needs a little more control and finesse in order to allow the movie’s situational horror to work. Many of the scares in the film are consistently undercut by the movie’s creative decisions, which leave it feeling campy without purpose.
That said, there are a few saving graces. The movie does have a decent sense of structure, even if that structure is riddled with lost potential. The film is not subtle in the least when it comes to what it is setting up, but at least it follows through on its promises. The movie also has a fast pace due to the intersecting plotlines. The film always has something to cut back to, so it doesn’t feel overly long. Finally, the movie offers something different than the previous two films. The first movie offered a micro view, the second film offered a chaotic view and this one offers a macro view. Even though the second film was my favorite in the series, this movie creates a slightly different experience for the audience. Plus, considering this movie’s plotline and the fact that all three films have featured Edwin Hodge (originally ‘The Stranger’, now in an expanded role as Dante Bishop, an anti-purge advocate), there is a bit of a resolution in this film. Let’s just hope it’s the last one.