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Review – The Purge: Election Year – “At times feels eerily prescient”

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The Purge: Election Year is the third film in the franchise and again spins the series’ high concept out a little further. The Purge established a world where all crime, including murder, is legal for one night – then stayed confined to one house. The second film, The Purge: Anarchy, took to the streets and veered away from home invasion and into a kind of Diet John Carpenter, sub-The Warriors action thriller. Purge 3, Election Year, stays on the streets and running and gunning, but also reintroduces some of the horror to the series. James DeMonaco returns to again write and direct, alongside Frank Grillo’s character from the second film.

After surviving the events of Purge 2, Leo Barnes (Grillo) is now a secret service bodyguard. He is protecting Senator Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell): a politician campaigning on the promise to ban the Purge if she comes to power. She is very popular and the N.F.F.A. – the New Founding Fathers of America – are nervous. These 1%-ers are so evil that they watch TV in the wrong aspect ratio, and not wanting to lose their excuse to clean the streets of the poor once a year, they decide to make sure that this Purge Roan is eliminated.

To this end they dispatch the most ridiculously over-the-top white supremacist mercenaries ever to assassinate the Senator. But what they have not counted on is Barnes – the toughest, coolest secret service agent ever. After her home is infiltrated, Barnes leads Roan out into the Washington DC streets where they must survive until the end of the Purge, and interact with some terrible side characters with some awful side quests.

If we had kept focus on Barnes and Roan and their adventures as they run from scary Purge night psycho to scary Purge night psycho, Election Year could have been great. Instead half the screen time is devoted to a group of characters trying to protect their delicatessen who cannot be shaken off once they are introduced. Every line of theirs in cringe-worthy and sort of racist, and that they do not manage to get insta-killed when they insist on making such stupid decisions is an insult to how hard Frank Grillo is working to make a gritty stripped back thriller. All stubbly cheekbones and slicked back undercut, Grillo’s Barnes is so tough that he cures himself after pulling an inch long bullet out of his own shoulder by running it off. It would be very nice if DeMonaco would realise how good his lead is and that he does not need any other nonsense to slow him down.

As well as Grillo, another thing DeMonaco does not seem to twig the value of are the masked villains. Anarchy wasted some cool skater youths with painted faces and murder on their minds, while Election Year quickly throws away some spoilt schoolgirls with glitter encrusted chainsaws and bejewelled shotguns that were far more interesting, worrying and scary than anything else in the film.

A sloppily introduced yet interesting idea, “murder tourism” – people vacationing to the USA for Purge night so that they can legally kill, is rife for exploration, but the entire concept is instead blown in one brief scene – literally and figuratively terminated by those darned deli vigilantes.

The soundtrack is problematic too, with a good glam rock stomping T-Rex title sequence start then ending with a credits use of David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans” that manages to feel both far too on the nose and completely shameless at the same time.

Things going the way they are in the USA at the moment, The Purge: Election Year at times feels eerily prescient. And while the film may be aware enough to play up to this, any attempts at setting a political agenda are embarrassingly reductive, while any discussion or coverage of issues of race and class are insufferably bludgeoned through.

Alright, but not as good as Purge 2, Election Year sees Grillo run, jump, shoot and brood his sexy, stubbly socks off. There are some interesting flashes of what everyone else is up to on Purge night and two decent jump scares, but also the promise of more purging – and that it will hopefully be better next time.

2-out-of-5

The Purge: Election Year is out in the UK on 26th August 2016.

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