LIKE any dystopian action-horror worth its salt, The Purge: Election Year (Cert 16, 109 mins) is loaded with out-there violence, cringey dialogue and scenery-chewing bad guys; it’s at its best when it sticks to this formula.
Unfortunately, hackneyed attempts at political discourse bring Election Year down.
2013’s The Purge laid the groundwork for an interesting vision of the future, attractive in the simplicity of its dystopian premise: an America where crime rates have dropped to an all-time low thanks to the annual 12-hour “Purge”, during which all criminal activity – including murder – is legal.
Unfortunately, The Purge failed to deliver, missing a delightfully twisted world-building opportunity by restricting the action to a single location and opting for a slow, cliched house-siege premise.
Its sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, rightly took the action into the streets and was all the better for it.
With this, the third entry in the series, writer/director James DeMonaco attempts to expand on the universe he created, implementing issues of class, race and religion that had been lightly touched on before.
His attempts to “smarten up” the series, however, are ill-suited to the over-the-top action and offbeat premise.
Elizabeth Mitchell plays Charlie Roan, a US senator who survived the Purge as a young girl. Now a presidential candidate, Roan works to abolish the yearly tradition that killed the rest of her family.
Shortly before commencement on the night of the Purge, Roan narrowly escapes an assassination attempt. With the help of her head of security, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), she tries to make it through the 12 hours on the streets of Washington DC.
The Purge: Anarchy knew exactly what it needed to be, learning from the mistakes of the previous entry and working from a dystopian-action template that brought to mind films such as 1987’s The Running Man.
While Election Year is cut from a similar cloth, DeMonaco tries to inject new life by structuring it as a kind of paranoid thriller, and riffing on the current political climate in the US.
Consequently, Election Year is riddled with clunky, half-baked attempts at racial discourse that jar terribly with the rest of the film.
Election Year, then, is at its best when its keeps it simple. The expansive world-building on display here is a welcome development for the series; of note is a look inside the annual Purge midnight mass, where church and state have become near-indistinguishable from one another.
Other nice touches include an appearance from a “Purge victim removal and disposal” truck, a look at the murder-tourism industry, and a glimpse inside the world of Purge-related business insurance – trivial but humorous details that add to our understanding of this darkly-eccentric, future America.
Like its predecessor, Election Year is peppered with imaginative set pieces and surreal, striking images: the steps of the Lincoln Memorial littered with bodies, an enormous guillotine dispatching victims down an alleyway.
DeMonaco has an eye for the kind of ghastly twists on modern America that make a dystopian horror work.
In the end, The Purge: Election Year falls victim to its own ambition. There’s a wickedly enjoyable film here – unfortunately, it’s buried beneath a little too much posturing and displaced discourse.
Fans of the series will delight in Election Year’s finer points; it may prove a little tasteless, however, for certain audiences.