Make America Crazy Again
The Purge series has had one of the oddest sequel trajectories I could remember. It’s premise involves the United States allowing all of its citizens to one night per year to commit any crime they want for 12 hours, calling it Purge Night. It’s meant to allow its citizens to get all of their “negative” attributes out of their system each year. During that time, all emergency services are suspended as well. It’s a pretty good premise that was squandered, oddly enough, in the very first movie, which limited the action to a single house. Leaving the rest of the film to be a siege-style horror film where crazy people in crazier masks try to break into a fortified house. But once the makers got greenlit for a sequel, they opted for a straight up action flick starring the fucking Punisher. That’s not a joke, Frank Grillo was playing The Punisher in all but name in the last movie; as he joined up with a group of people trying to survive for twelve hours on the streets during a Purge Night.
For the third installment, Frank Grillo’s character, Leo, returns as a newly minted Secret Service agent protecting Senator Charlie Roan, a presidential candidate running on a platform to end the Purge after she witnessed her whole family getting slaughtered on a Purge Night years before. With reports coming out that the political party that enacted the Purge, the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA), have been secretly profiting off the Purge for decades while eliminating poor people to reduce the need for social services, Roan might actually have a shot at the Presidency. But the NFFA aren’t keen on ending the Purge and try to assassinate Roan. Too bad for them,
the Punisher, I mean Leo, isn’t going to let that happen (it sounds so much more badass when the Punisher is guarding her though…)
So instead of Assault on Precinct 13, you get a riff on another John Carpenter classic, Escape from New York, where you have one bad ass dude protect one of the most important people in the country from an onslaught of crazy people. For The Purge: Election Year, that means our heroes have to fend off people wearing bloody masks and heavily armed militias as they try to survive the night using whatever is handy: every knife, 2×4 and gun they can get their mitts on. It’s an overall solid premise that is surprisingly told competently, even if a few setbacks hold the movie back from true greatness.
The setbacks start with certain characters. Now I know you’re dealing with a world that has lost all sanity that made them think something like the Purge would be a good idea. Then again we are living in a world that is seriously considering to elect a racist moron that keeps lying even as others demonstrate his outright falsehoods…sorry, getting sidetracked for a moment. But I did want to bring up the Donald Trump comparisons earlier, not just because the filmmakers have decided to use his tagline for their own movie, but because the film is not subtle in the least about what it’s trying to say.
It’s been established in previous movies that the Purge targets low income individuals and is mostly perpetuated by people foolish enough to buy into insane religious dogma as well as upper class white people. This idea returns for this installment, only the main protagonists are assisted on all sides by Black and Latino characters, as they themselves also want to see an end to Purge Night. And many times, that involves taking arms against armed Neo-Nazis (seriously) as well as the NFFA who conglomerate in a church setting to brutally murder innocent people. Like I said, subtle this movie is not.
Sometimes the lack of subtlety hurts the movie like the minority protagonists that act a wee bit stereotypical. One chick refers to herself as “Pequeña Muerte is back bitches.” Another dude says, “Every night in Juarez was Purge Night.” One dude, named Joe, has a few choice lines like “I like y’all Black people, but these are my white folks here” or “What the Mississippi fuck?” or “Good night, blue cheese.”
You don’t have to lean so hard on stereotypes The Purge, you’re doing fine without it. Hell, they managed to a bit of decent buildup for action scenes on a fraction of the budget of something Independence Day: Retchedness (credit to my buddy Ross for that one), and the filmmakers are able to deliver a story that is significantly less stupid and more thrilling than Roland Emmerich’s spunk baby. Mostly because these filmmakers know how to create tension and know how to release said tension with careful plot twists and believable characters.
What works less well are the gunfights, and here’s where the weakness of this director become more apparent. When shooting such scenes, he films them way too up close so you can’t tell what the hell is going on; especially when he gets to hand-to-hand scenes and you realize these two big dudes are performing some UFC nonsense that doesn’t look the least bit cool or interesting. What’s more, you’ve got a chase sequence…without a chase. The movie focuses on the interior of two vehicles while talking about what is happening outside and not showing you. It’s a critical flaw in an action movie and I realize why this occurred.
Jason Blum, my old nemesis from Jem and the Holograms rears his ugly head to demonstrate why you don’t cap your budget at $5 million and prevent your director from actually showing you something cool. I get why the guy is a penny pincher, hell it’s the reason he’s able to make 400% profit on literally every movie he makes (unless it’s an abomination like Jem), but it also means you don’t have money for wide angle shots, destroyed cars, stuntmen and literally anything else you need to make a competent action flick.
But to the director’s credit, his writing (for the most part) sells you on the idea of what’s happening and I was able to forgive these glaring mistakes. Mostly because I got angry. Not at the film, but by the very idea it presents of a dystopian America that was brought to life through deceptive control of an ignorant populace. The film also gives me the satisfaction of seeing people rise against this ignorance and pursue a greater ideal.
Despite it’s glaring flaws, I can appreciate a movie’s heart and for that reason, I’ll give this a solid…