(NEW YORK) — The Purge movies are great business. The first two, combined, cost 12 million dollars to make and went on to gross nearly 200 million dollars globally, thanks to a delightfully sick and twisted premise.
In the not-so-distant future, a new U.S. government is formed to save a dying country, promising that one day a year, for 12 hours, nothing is illegal, most notably murder and torture. That day is called “The Purge,” and has become a way for people to release their pent-up anger and frustration — and also, clearly, a way for the government to control the population.
The first Purge movie in 2013 was a fascinating original, if not an excuse for excessive and gratuitous violence. While there was a little too much of the latter, it wasn’t awful – unlike 2014’s The Purge: Anarchy. That movie starred the charismatic Frank Grillo, the only strength, somewhat, in a very weak film.
Grillo returns here but is given a formidable and likable scene partner in Elizabeth Mitchell. She plays Senator Charlie Roan, a woman who lost her family to a Purge. She’s running for president, promising to end The Purge if she wins. That makes her a threat to the New Founding Fathers, the idiots who concocted The Purge. When it becomes apparent Roan has a legitimate shot at winning, the government uses The Purge to try to get rid of her. As head of Roan’s security detail, Grillo’s Leo Barnes has his work cut out for him.
Writer and director James DeMonaco puts forth his best effort here. From production values to story, this is a vast improvement over the first two movies, which he also wrote and directed. Obviously, creating a story centered around a presidential election in a presidential election year is only good business, but DeMonaco had to know using his stylized snuff films to take a, um, stab at serious political and social commentary would be frowned upon by most critics.
But while he uses that superficial commentary as an entry point for the violence, DeMonaco gives us better characters, funnier banter and more thoughtful choreography and composition here. The Purge: Election Year looks better and is just more entertaining than the first two.
Even so, The Purge: Election Year can’t escape its DNA – it’s a low-budget, sickening, gratuitously violent escapade with an outlandish premise. Yet despite that, it’s well-executed for what it is.
Three out of five stars.
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