The Purge: Election Year consciously foregrounds what once was blunt subtext in the dystopian series: It’s about how the Purge is wrong, wrong, wrong. As such, it packs less of a punch; writer/director James DeMonaco has a lot to say, but this neo-grindhouse framework isn’t built for complexity. Still, the film is just bonkers enough to work.
At the center of the new tale is Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a presidential candidate who wants to end the tradition of Purge Night. (Her whole family was massacred some years ago, which is why she entered politics in the first place.) Running against the country’s New Founding Fathers -- the sneering array of scotch-swilling, vampiric and pious old white men who instituted the Purge in the first place -- she’s a marked woman. Luckily, she has trusty Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), the ass-kicking antihero of Purge: Anarchy, handling security for her.
This time, however, the director seems to hold Purge Night at a distance: He presents us with plenty of ghoulish and bizarre sights, not to mention gruesome violence. But it all feels like it’s being played for maximum strangeness, thus lessening its visceral impact. By contrast, the sights and sounds of the earlier films felt like monsters from our collective Id, disturbingly familiar and compelling. Ironically, DeMonaco is releasing this new one into a real-life political environment of unnerving tension and gonzo theatricality -- but in some weird way, the previous films felt more prescient than this new one.