It's no coincidence that this latest film in The Purge series has been released in an actual US presidential election year. And it's probably no coincidence that the two presidential candidates in the film are a male republican and a female democrat. It's timely, it's topical and quite blatantly puts a corrupt system run by rich white men up against an idealised system as envisioned by women and minorities. The political satire is laid on with a trowel, and the film aims to get you fired up, and for the most part it succeeds. Mostly.
For those who came in late, all The Purge movies have a brilliant set-up – imagine a world where, for one night every year, all laws are suspended. For a 12-hour period, all crimes – even rape and murder – are perfectly legal. During The Purge, from 7pm until 7am, all law enforcement officers, as well as military and medical services, are off duty. The Purge: Election Year opens on one such night, where young Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) watches her family be murdered before her eyes. Eighteen years later, the now Senator Roan is now standing for election against Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor), the candidate from the ruling party, the New Founding Fathers of America. Because Roan is standing on a platform of ending the annual Purge, the NFFA – headed by Caleb Warrens (Raymond J Barry) – see her as a viable threat and so set out to eliminate her on Purge night. It's up to the head of her security detail, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo, returning from Anarchy) to ensure she survives the night.
Election Year continues what was so good about Anarchy, in that it takes to the streets and revels in the violence and sheer craziness of the Purge itself. After Roan is betrayed by a member of her staff, she and Barnes have to leave her safe house and risk their lives on the streets of Washington to get out of the city to safety. Along the way they enlist help from shopkeeper Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson) and ambulance driver Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel), eventually joining forces with underground leader led by Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge).
It's no coincidence that the rebels opposed to the Purge are mainly black and Hispanic minorities, while the ruling NFFA is primarily rich, old white men terrified of losing power. The theme of class warfare that ran so strongly through Anarchy continues here, with the Purge portrayed as a means of controlling the population, of culling the poor, the weak, the sick and the unemployed who are almost exclusively the targeted victims of the state-sanctioned chaos. It's set in a future America, but there are so many parallels to the current climate that is a little scary.
Once again, Grillo is the standout performer here, but Mitchell is also strong as the idealistic politician. The film is written and directed by James DeMonaco, who wrote and helmed the first two Purges, and once again he doesn't quite perfectly nail this clever concept. Election Year does deliver a few decent shocks, but it again doesn't delve quite deeply enough into the actual Purge itself, and the potential nastiness of a night of unbridled anarchy. It's tightly directed and the action and violence are functional and, at times, thrilling, but so much more could have been made of its political topicality. Still, for a glorified B-movie, there's plenty of fun to be had.