The most common complaint about the 2013’s The Purge–even among those (like me) who otherwise liked the film–is that it sort of wasted its very clever “all crime is legal for one night” premise by focusing on one fairly basic “home invasion” story. The sequel, 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy addressed this complaint (and how) by giving audiences precisely what they asked for: a much more expansive view of what the “Purge” looks like on the city streets. This change in focus effectively turned the franchise from a horror story to a dark action exploit, but genre fans didn’t seem to mind; The Purge 2 ended up making even more money than the first chapter did.
So how does a filmmaker up the ante once again for a second sequel? Purge-master James DeMonaco already went with blood-soaked social commentary in the first sequel, so why not go with some overtly political themes on the second one? Given the horrifying state of American politics today, the topic certainly seems ripe for a Purge-style skewering, and it’s (once again) the change of focus that prevents a “Part 3” from feeling like a lazy copycat or a basic rehash of the earlier entries. That’s not to say that the film’s political commentary is all that shocking or unique; just that it’s nice to see a hard-edged genre film that has at least half a working brain in its head.
Frank Grillo, who stole numerous scenes throughout The Purge: Anarchy (as well as in a couple of Captain America movies), returns as Leo Barnes, a no-nonsense bodyguard / security expert who is tasked with defending a Purge-hating senator (Elizabeth Mitchell) who plans to put an end to the annual crime-fest if she can win the upcoming Presidential election. But of course she has to live through a particularly nasty Purge night before she can even make it to election day. After a few predictably enjoyable betrayals, Leo and Senator Roan find themselves on the (very) mean streets of Washington DC, desperate to stay alive and grateful for the assistance they receive from a few decent citizens.
We also get a basic but appealing subplot about a noble deli owner and his gang of good-natured friends who try to keep the “purgers” at bay, and a small but compelling thread about “murder tourists” who visit America with bad things on their mind, and of course everyone’s paths cross in various violent and shocking ways, and everything comes to a head with a decidedly nifty third-act twist that brings the film’s political themes to a frenzied conclusion. The Purge 3 might be “more of the same” combined with a few novel ideas, but no matter what you call it, you certainly won’t be bored.
If The Purge: Election Year seems to borrow more than a little of the story, themes, subtext, and musical stylings of John Carpenter’s classic Escape from New York, that’s fine because the flick still sticks to its own Purge-happy premise, and also because, hey, if you’re going to be inspired by other b-movie masterpieces, you could do a hell of a lot worse than to emulate Escape from New York here and there. And while The Purge: Election Year is a seriously violent and sometimes halfway nihilistic affair, there’s also a firm sense of morality that runs through the mayhem. We all want to watch what happens when crime is made legal, but deep down we all want to root for the heroes. That this series allows a viewer to have its cake and eat it too is only one of its cleverer aspects.
3.5 out of 5 bullet-strewn burritos
Image: Blumhouse / Universal