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Purge, The: Election Year
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Shallow"
1 stars

As you no doubt know by now—and if you don’t, please allow me to congratulate you on the spectacular array of life choices that have allowed you to stay in the dark in regards to the subject at hand—the “Purge” films posit an America in the not-too-distant future that, having evidently taken “The Hunger Games” just a little too close to heart for comfort, has pulled itself out from social and economic chaos with the institution of “The Purge,” an annual 12-hour-long period where any and all crimes (“including murder,” we are constantly reminded) are made legal and the populace is allowed to run amok—the working theory being that by venting their violent impulses in such a manner, they will be peaceful and productive members of society for the rest of the year. I am not exactly sure that I agree with the logic behind all of this but the doughy white guys in charge of the government and the Purge seem to thing that it is working just peachy, largely because of a loophole—there is always a loophole—that government officials of a certain rank are exempt from the festivities and cannot be touched. (How this is actually enforced is, of course, left up to your imagination.) This then begs a couple of questions. For one, do you suppose that the reason that Donald Trump is running for president is because he is under the mistaken delusion that the Purge is real and by being elected, he will be protected from the violent masses? On the other hand, could he be running in the hopes of some day making the Purge a real thing and a part of his plan to make America great again, if somewhat messier?

I find myself contemplating this issues because “The Purge: Election Year,” the third installment of the franchise, is in large part about that aforementioned loophole and the political ramifications of the Purge and because the film does so little with them that the mind ends up wandering from the onscreen action to dreaming up second-rate Donald Trump jokes. This time around, the Purge has been around for a couple of decades and while the government continues to tout its success, a growing anti-Purge movement claims that the whole thing is merely an excuse for the government to eliminate the lower classes so that they do not have to spend more money on social services and for big businesses like insurance companies to soak the poor for as much as they can by jacking up insurance rates right before Purge night. One person who has fully embraced the anti-Purge agenda is Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who got into politics after her entire family was killed in a Purge and is now running for the presidency against the establishment candidate on the promise that, if elected, her first course of action will be to repeal the Purge. Needless to say, the guys in charge are not too thrilled with this platform and when her candidacy gets a little too popular for comfort, they retaliate by ordering that the loophole regarding government officials be rescinded—ostensibly, this is to combat the perception that only the poor get killed during the Purge but in reality, they do it so that they can bring in a squad of wildly racist mercenaries to kill Senator Roan during the chaos without fear of reprisal.

Luckily for Senator Roan, she has a secret weapon in Leo Barnes (Frank Grillio), whose Purge-related misadventures we witnessed in “The Purge: Anarchy” and who now works as Roan’s head of security. Barnes suspects that something bad is about to go down and when it becomes apparent that they have been betrayed, the two are forced to take to the increasingly insane streets of Washington D.C. in order to stay alive for the next few hours. Along the way, they are given aid by Joe (Mykelti Williamson), a deli owner determined to protect his store when his insurance company drops his coverage at the last second, Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), who is determined to help protect mentor Joe, and Laney (Betty Rucker), a one-time badass who now roams the streets on Purge night in a fortified ambulance as part of a subrosa triage unit operated by Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge), who has grown from his humble beginnings as the unnamed homeless guy who sought shelter in Ethan Hawke’s house in the original film to the leader of an underground movement determined to bring down those responsible for the Purge through slightly more direct ways than the political processes. Along the way, they run into such homicidal obstacles as foreign tourists determined to have a little fun for themselves, seemingly ordinary people who have evidently put a lot of thought into how they want to dispatch their neighbors (seriously, what did the person building the full-size guillotine say when his neighbors asked what they were building in the back yard?), psycho schoolgirls determined to get bloody revenge on Joe for busting them for trying to steal candy bars from his store (more about them in a bit) and the aforementioned hit squad of racist mercenaries. If you think I am just making assumptions about said hit squad, their jackets are covered with patches and buttons ranging from the Confederate flag to one that simply says “WHITE POWER.”

In reviewing the original film, I wrote “Awkwardly bringing together the lamest elements of films as diverse as “Straw Dogs,” “Christmas with the Kranks,” “The Strangers” and “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” any number of awful short stories from a sophomore year creative writing class and every horror film made in the wake of “Halloween” that derives the vast majority of its scares from eerie figures suddenly popping up in the back of the frame, “The Purge” is a movie that would be incredibly offensive if it weren’t so damned stupid in every possible way.” The difference with “Election Day” is that it is just as stupid as the first one was but goes the extra mile by being incredibly offensive to boot. As has been the case with the previous films, writer-director James DeMonaco has not even come remotely close to making the entire conceit of the Purge vaguely plausible, either as a straightforward or as a satirical extrapolation of where we are headed as a society. Supporters of the franchise—and it seems that such people do exist—will no doubt suggest that it is merely following in the footsteps of such brutally violent and borderline anarchic films as “A Clockwork Orange” and “Natural Born Killers.” On the most superficial level, that may be true but whatever one might think about those films (while I highly admire “Natural Born Killers,” “A Clockwork Orange” remains my least-favorite Stanley Kubrick film by a wide margin), they were at least made with a point and purpose by filmmakers who had things that they wanted to say about what they saw was going on in the world.

“Election Day,” on the other hand, may start out that way—in the opening scenes, the crashingly obvious political subtext from the earlier films regarding the true reasons behind the Purge has been underlined so that no one can possibly miss it this time around—but that stuff is quickly shoved aside in order to offer up one ridiculously elaborate and gory tableau of savagery after another that allows the film to have its cake and eat it as well. Sure, the heroine may preach to her protectors about the need to rise above the situation and avoid violence, lest they descend to the same level of savagery, but after the first hundred or so grisly deaths, those words ring a little hollow, especially considering the ways that DeMonaco strives to let his viewers off the hook by contriving violent acts that are so bizarre that they are utterly divorced from reality (again, someone builds a full-scale guillotine) while avoiding any that might hit too close to home—you would think that crimes of a sexual nature would be prevalent if the Purge was indeed a reality but such things do not seem to have occurred to any of the participants that we see. (This is not, I hesitate to mention, to suggest that I am upset not to see any graphic rape sequences in the film—only to suggest that by going out of its way to avoid anything that might genuinely challenge or provoke viewers into reexamining their own thoughts about what they have been seeing and theoretically enjoying, the film is basically a big cop-out.)

In a film filled with dumb, ugly and morally and ethically questionable moments, there is one plot development in “Election Day” that sinks below the rest. Remember the would-be shoplifters that I mentioned earlier? Well, they, along with a handful of friends, inevitably come back to the deli once the Purge is officially on, dressed up like refugees from the “Everytime” montage from “Spring Breakers” and armed to the teeth, hellbent on messing up Joe and his store and getting some of that sweet sweet candy that they were previously denied. Now if DeMonaco actually approached his premise with some kind of discernible thought process, this scene could have served as a perfect illustration as to how those in power can manipulate those who aren’t via propaganda and scare tactics into doing things that are in complete opposition to their own self-interests, whether it is voting for policies that will affect them more harshly than others or killing each other over something as trivial as a candy bar. Instead, DeMonaco cheerfully removes all of those potentially troubling and thought-provoking notions by making the ringleader into an utter cartoon through closeups that make her look like Tina Turner in “Tommy” sans the restraint and a total psychotic by having her glibly inform everyone that she murdered her own parents before going on this particular snack run. As a result, instead of musing on the sad implications of people killing each other for no good reason, the audience is merely primed to see the crazy African-American schoolgirl get hers but good—they are not disappointed in this respect as we get to see the girl first run over by a car and then, when it turns out that she is not quite dead, gets a shotgun blast straight to the head. In case you were wondering, the audience that I saw it with—which included at least one person sporting a mask akin to those worn by the onscreen Purgers—whooped and screamed with delight once the girl’s brains were decorating the street.

“The Purge: Election Day” is utter swill from start to finish—a mixture of political rhetoric and Marquise de Sade-style violence made by and for people who never passed PolSci 101 and who pronounce de Sade’s name in the same manner as the “Smooth Operator” singer. Unlike most dumb movies, which at least have the good taste to sort of recognize their own idiocies from time to time, this is a very stupid movie that has somehow deluded itself, not to mention some audiences and even a few critics, into somehow thinking that it is much smarter than it actually is. Because the films are cheap to produce and generally do not feature any recurring elements other than the central gimmick of the Purge, there is the horrible possibility that this series could go on forever, or at least until it eventually becomes unprofitable. If there have to be additional “Purge” extravaganzas, I would once again like to suggest that the producers consider either doing a “Year One”-type tale illustrating how such a thing could have won the favor of the people in the first place or telling a story entirely from the perspective of an enthusiastic Purger, both during the night of violence and the next day when they must once again put those homicidal impulses away (along with the guillotine) and face the real world. If DeMonaco was truly serious about the allegedly thought-provoking nature of his premise, either one of these approaches would allow him to fully illustrate that point. Of course, they would lack the allegedly cathartic carnage that the scarier audience members have come to expect and they might respond by staying away in droves to such a degree that the entire franchise might finally collapse. Oddly, I would not have a problem with that.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=29837&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/30/16 11:29:24
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User Comments

10/03/20 DavidV One of the least subtle movies you'll ever see 2 stars
4/27/18 morris campbell decent just like the original 2 stars
10/13/16 Langano Time to lay this franchise to rest. 2 stars
10/01/16 Jeff Faulkner Fun popcorn flick, I love these movies. 4 stars
9/01/16 Angel Baby Araiza This movie had me a little disappointed only good part is the girl with the blinged out gun 3 stars
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  DVD: 04-Oct-2016


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