The Purge: Election Year Directed by James DeMonaco
Published Jul 01, 2016For a horror film about an annual night of free-for-all murder sprees, The Purge: Election Year sure is a bloodless film. It sets itself up to deliver a politically charged message it never really commits to, resulting in an unsatisfying story arc that doesn't pay off.
It's not even a very good horror movie, either. Instead of disturbing scenes of humans giving in to their base urges, we mostly get firefights (most of which are near impossible to see, as the film isn't particularly well-lit), chase scenes and more firefights.
After seeing her whole family viciously slaughtered on a "purge night" (to those unfamiliar with the series, in the near future, the United States has mandated that, for a 12-hour period each year, all forms of crime are legal), Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is running for President, with her primary platform built on abolishing Purge Night. This is not making her popular with the 1%, but lower-middle-class voters are thrilled. On the annual Purge Night, Senator Roan's team of security must ensure that she is kept safe from possible assassination attempts and the all-out craziness of the general populace.
"The Purge is the biggest cause of death for lower-income people every year," says the Senator, and yet the film's biggest disappointment is that we never see this actually occur. Taking a political stance on how violence disproportionally affects the poor and people of colour is a huge move for a mainstream horror film, especially considering the current events of today, but for all the film's posturing and throwing in lines about how insurance companies and the NRA profit off purge night, the audience never really gets a sense that underprivileged people are unfairly targeted. In a visual narrative, that should be the first priority.
We only see that, for the most part, people of colour are the good guys, and rich white people are the bad guys (except for our White Hero, of course), in an absurdly silly church scene where what looks like a Republican rally repeats very death-metal sounding phrases like "Purge to purify" (the script is, altogether, pretty silly).
To be fair, the reason why we don't get a sense of who the purge targets could likely be because we don't see much of anything, which is why The Purge: Election Year fails as a horror movie too. Much of the scenes of violence are seen briefly, in passing, through the windows of a van or on the side of the road, with the film's most outlandish, overtly satirical or political scenes (featured prominently in the trailer) taking up just minutes of screen time. It becomes more an action film than a horror, the good guys shooting down the bad guys from a van or a church, or besting them in a street brawl.
The irony of being a film about how violence negatively affects American society that consists of 50% shootouts was apparently lost on the filmmakers.