Sunday, July 3, 2016

Review: The Purge: Election Year

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
The third time is not quite the charm for "The Purge" series as its latest, the politically themed "Election Year," is yet another example of an intriguing concept undone by middling execution. From the start, I've thought that the general concept of the series has been one that could make for a compelling low budget horror movie, but it has yet to yield a successful result.

In this new entry, a senator named Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) who is opposed to The Purge after witnessing her entire family being murdered 18 years before is running on a platform of shutting down the annual night of mayhem, whereas her opponent recognizes that appeasing the bloodthirsty masses allows rich folks like himself to remain in power.

The story features a hodgepodge of characters, including Roan and her steely bodyguard Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo, a survivor of a previous "Purge" film), who intends to keep her safe throughout the course of the night, as well a store owner, Joe Dixon (a very good Mykelti Williamson), who aims to protect his shop from vandalism; his protege, a Mexican immigrant named Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria); and a badass known as Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel), a former criminal turned protector of the innocent who was once saved by Joe.

While the central cast members are all pretty solid, the supporting ones are, well, not so much. The picture is littered with wooden, expository dialogue and some hammy acting from the sinister participants in the event. A group of young women who terrorize Joe's store are completely over-the-top and the evil New Founding Fathers, who lead the government and originally concocted The Purge, are even more so.

Released this year for obvious reasons, "Election Year" has a political bent that is often intriguing. In this populist election season, it's interesting that the Purge's victims are primarily lower income residents and minorities and that those purging are either well armed one percenters or folks who look like they might have just come from a Donald Trump rally. And the film doesn't make the mistake of making the heroes out to be saints - several of them attest to histories of violence. If only the villains were as nuanced.

But while the picture's general politics - the movie unambiguously boasts a tagline of "Keep America Great" - veer populist, there are also some murkier attributes. Roan attempts to dissuade some of the leaders of a rebellion type of group from assassinating leaders of the New Founding Fathers on the grounds that it would make them just as bad. However, a scene late in the film in which the villains stage a midnight ritual nearly undercuts Roan's message, which is what the filmmakers appear to be espousing. It's not as if the film has to have a political persuasion one way or another to make it work, but it occasionally comes off as inconsistent.

There's also some unfortunate dialogue that weights down the proceedings, especially a few stereotypes uttered by a black character about other black people that feels as if it was written by some white folks. I'm sure the dialogue was meant to be funny, but it plummets like dead weight. Unfortunately, much of the film's dialogue is equally as groan inducing, if not as questionable.

"Election Year" isn't a bad film - it's often intense and occasionally astute - but rather a mixed bag. This is a series that could be very good, at least conceptually speaking, but has yet to be executed successfully. If they move forward with another in the series, perhaps they should just focus on Betty Gabriel's Laney - now there's a force of nature.

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