We last saw Sgt. Leo Barnes two years ago in Los Angeles during the Purge of 2023; the annual holiday where all crime, including rape and murder (except of high ranking government officials) are legal. Though avenging the death of his toddler son drives Leo’s existence, he realized that the Purge wasn’t as it seems. Wonderfully hinted in the first film (2013) and all but screamed in the second (2014), the Purge is a thinly veiled exercise in population control where the upper class psychopaths prey on the defenceless, eliminating the “burdens” of society. Realizing that murder won’t bring him happiness, nor bring his son back Leo moves on.
Two years later, we reconnect with Leo in Washington, DC; where he is leading a security detail for a popular Presidential candidate. Senator Charlene ‘Charlie’ Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) has been on the frontlines, rallying against the Purge for decades. Fifteen years ago, Senator Roan was the sole survivor of a Purge night attack on her family. Since that fateful day, she has dedicated her life to ending the annual lawless holiday. The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) stands to oppose the Senator and thus “Keep America Great”. Crime and unemployment are at an all time low while, consumer spending and overall happiness are at its highest, since the institution of the Purge. While the debate rages on about the ethics and morality of the Purge, its supporters conclude that America has never been better. In response to cries of the Purge being an instrument of classism, xenophobia and racism; the NFFA strikes down one of the few rules of the event. The use of class 4 and above weapons are prohibited, but for the first time, any government official, including those of class 10 or higher are not exempt from the Purge this year. For Leo Barnes, keeping the Senator alive through the night is his only priority; and that isn’t as easy as it seems.
With over $200m worldwide at the box office, against a $12m between the first two films in the franchise, The Purge: Election Year returns with the same grit and unbridled violence as its predecessors. Lots of nameless, faceless, characters roam the streets of Washington, D.C. along with the rest of the nation, purging their souls of the natural wish to kill (as the NFFA makes up think). Unfortunately the series has never delved deep enough into the ramifications of the Purge. Though it is federal law, does the Purge apply to overseas territories, overseas military installations and prisons? The most fun aspect of The Purge is exploring its real world ramifications. In a society where the poor are demonized and the rich, generally aren’t held to the same standards as the middle class, The Purge presents a situation where, on paper at least, for one night anything is possible.
As much fun as it is to speculate about the Purge, it is still a movie in the end and needs to accomplish certain things to be successful. Set in Washington, D.C. (my hometown) this time, the Purge: Election Year does a surprisingly good job of using real local landmarks and neighbourhoods. Street scenes were filmed in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, but a lot of detail was put into recreating the appropriate landscape. It may sound like I’m nitpicking, but a movie that is geographically incorrect, ruins my immersion. (Looking at you Die Hard 4) I would expect anyone from Philadelphia to complain if mountains and palm trees were seen when Rocky ran up the Art Museum’s steps.
The Purge series has always been given the benefit of the doubt, due to it’s unexplored, yet intriguing plot; in spite of the subpar acting. Frank Grillo as the former Sergeant Barnes and Elizabeth Mitchell as the idealistic Senator Roan have fair chemistry and hold the movie together. A new round of supporting characters enter the fray, but are largely used as filler. Their generic backstories and lack of relevance to the central plot is the cruelest irony. I would like the Purge series to continue, but it seems as if it’s the end of this franchise and that’s ok. Though not a good as the second installment The Purge: Election Year reuses the formula for it other successes, making it a good place to quit while they’re ahead.
Rated: R @ 115 Mins