I pledge allegiance to the Purge.
In our completely impromptu look at modern horror films, let's dive into apparently one of the most popular horror series of the past decade, The Purge. Now, calling The Purge a horror series may be a bit generous since I would describe most of the content in the movies as a thriller series. In a way, I would consider The Purge movies to be on the same page as slasher movies from the 1980's. They're cheap and easy to make, have a universal concept as a main villain, usually involve new protagonists in every movie that almost always get killed in one way or the other, and have radically different messages in each installment.
Where The Purge differs from series like Friday the 13th and the Nightmare on Elm Street series is that you can make a claim that the original movie was good and stands the test of time. The first Purge movie does not. For those unfamiliar with the premise, the Purge is a time period where for 12 hours of one night per year, all crime is legal. Murder, rape, robbery, all of it is perfectly legal, and this time period allows people to get out all of their negative emotions to reduce crime in America to near nothingness. I won't get into how the logistics of the Purge make any sense, but it's a horror movie, so I'll roll with it. I don't question why Freddy Kruger can invade dreams, it just happens, so shut up and watch the fireworks. My problem with the first movie is that with such an interesting premise, the movie just revolves around a family holding up in their house while a few psychopaths try to break into it. Nothing is original about the execution, and nothing is original about how the first movie played out. It was bad, dull, and I wished for a more interesting movie.
That prayer was kind of answered in the sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, which pretty much said "screw it, let's just turn this series into an action movie!" So most of the intrigue was lost instead to violence and everyone in the world being a damned psychopath. You were either Mother Theresa, or Patrick Bates. Your choice. The movie was alright, but nothing to write home about. So now, in 2016, we get a movie that decides to be topical and have a political message!
The premise this time is simple. It's time for the presidential election, and a new incumbent Charlie Roan, is running for president on an anti-Purge platform. If she wins, she will put an end to the Purge once and for all. The New Founding Fathers of America, the current organization running the Purge and manipulating all of the presidents, decides to kill her on the night of the Purge, so it's a manhunt for the senator as she tries to survive the night and hopefully win the election.
So let's just get The Purge: Election Year's premise out of the way and deconstruct its political elements. An out of nowhere senator is running for the president that challenges the current political structure and wants to initiate complete reform. We're meant to side with her as the hero as she tries to survive the night without killing anyone. The NFFA are a group of old white men who love violence and are treating the Purge as a way to wipe out the poor and line their own pockets while turning the nature of the Purge into a religion that attracts thousands of people from across the world to come to America just to participate in the Purge and fulfill the American Dream; to kill and eviscerate everyone you do not trust. It's easy to see Charlie Roan as a fill in for Bernie Sanders without a doubt, but the NFFA's role model and ideal villain is... Ted Cruz? So in other words, we have a political movie about two candidates who are no longer in the presidential race. Just getting that all out there, so let's move on to actually pointing out the flaws of the movie, because there are a TON.
Election Year is not a good movie. It has ideas and a few interesting elements to it, but most of the movie just feels like I'm watching unentertaining shlock. One of the major subplots in the movie is about a woman who gets caught trying to steal a candy bar from a random corner store, and then vows to hunt down the store owner on Purge Night... because she's psychotic. A stark raving lunatic spends most of the Purge Night trying to kill a random old guy who caught her trying to steal a candy bar that costs $2. I wish that I was joking, but I couldn't make it up if I tried. In a movie about a political war between two ideologies where the NFFA hunts down a woman with a platoon of white supremacists, we spend a good amount of time dealing with a candy bar craving psycho.
The biggest failing in this movie is that nearly everyone, and I mean everyone, is absolutely crazy if they participate in the Purge. No ifs ands or buts, if you are in the Purge, you're a monster that will build guillotines in the streets, watch people burn alive, or hand people from a tree as they stab them repeatedly. It says a lot when the most rational people besides our pacifistic senator is the head white supremacist, who says that once the job is done, he's hiding out for the rest of the night to get away from the lunatics. Everyone in America is a psychopath, hip hip hooray.
It's not just because the film is so bleak that I don't like it that much. It's also because the action just isn't that entertaining or visually interesting. There might be interesting moments, like watching a group of maniacs drive around in a car straight out of Mad Max with maces, but every fight scene always devolves into two people shooting at each other in the dark until one of them dies. That just seems so... normal. For a horror series where all crime is legal for 12 hours, you're telling me that no one decides to make a Negan styled baseball bat and beat the crap out of people, or make some Silent Hill styled torture scenes? I mean, if you're going to go all the way with the violence, don't be tame about it.
And yet The Purge: Election Year is very tame when you get right down to it. It's bleak and actively hates the current political system, but nothing interesting happens in the movie to warrant the bleak attitude. People are ritualistically sacrificed yes, but it's all so blase. My jaw never dropped to the floor once during this movie, and I could call all of the plot twists before they even happened. I knew when each character was going to die, and the only surprising thing about the movie was that one character died later than I thought he would.
That being said, I don't think the movie is all bad though. The Purge has always been aware of how crazy its premise is, so at least a lot of the villains here are so over-the-top insane that it's actually kind of amazing. The very first line of spoken dialogue is so course and extreme that I bursted out laughing, the candy bar subplot was so ridiculous that I couldn't believe that it was being taken seriously and it was ended fantastically, and the Ted Cruz stand in is such a wacko religious nut job that it looks like he's orgasming at EVERY. SINGLE. WORD. Election Year knows that by this point, it's so insane that it at least has some good comedic moments inside of it, and a fight scene involving foreigners participating in the Purge was probably the best scene in the movie.
At this point, I think The Purge really needs to just take a step back and analyze where its strengths are at. If The Purge becomes a horror-comedy series, I wouldn't have any problem with that since the series is at its best when it's tries to be completely insane. It's funny to watch clear mad people ham it up for an hour or two instead of watching super serious people run around trying to survive. Hell, next time, why not center the movie on a serial killer who tries to top himself every Purge with a new spectacle? It would be a blast to watch and would probably give me a hell of a good time watching it.
As for The Purge: Election Year, it's a purely alright film. It has bleak and senseless violence, but there are elements that make me smile, even if it's just for a moment.