Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Purge: Election Year

A paltry three years ago, in 2013, a stylish idea came to light leading me to believe it would be a great horror flick (and I’m just taking it in right now that it’s only been three years...it seems like much longer).  The movie was called The Purge and it’s funny because my wife heard about it before I had, calling attention to it one night when the television spot aired between some commercials; I say it’s amusing only for the reason that my wife usually stays clear of a movie that has resemblance of anything scary, gory, or a combination of both.  But speaking of that TV spot, I’d loved the little scene teased where someone was walking through their house unaware of a masked person poking their head in from an open window behind them.  It was a creepy vibe and I thought it’d be a success.  It had resonated the reaction I’d felt when seeing the trailer for The Strangers six years prior, so I’d started itching for it from the word ‘go.’  The Purge had missed the mark in that regard, even though it was an interesting movie entertainingly enough, but it garnered a sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, that had surpassed the original and made me a fan of the franchise instantly.

The aspect I had loved about the sequel is that it took the story out in the world, giving the audience a glimpse as to what occurs when this event—a national day where any crime, including murder, is legal for 12 hours—takes place.  Where the original movie was more of a home invasion type of flick, the sequel took it further, as well as giving us a vigilante to get behind.

The Purge: Election Year continues the story of that vigilante, rather than making up a whole new story for this sequel, and I’m glad they’d done just that.  But before going into a full discussion of the film, let me first give you the synopsis…

Years after sparing the man who killed his son, former police sergeant Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) has become head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a Presidential candidate targeted for death on Purge Night due to her vow to eliminate The Purge.

The Purge: Election Year has been on my radar for quite some time now, probably since the release of the first sequel.  I’d known that Frank Grillo was to return and I was interested at what capacity they were going to bring him back.  Seeing as he played a “Punisher” type of character in Anarchy, I thought we were to see more of that, perhaps see him become a hero where he goes out to save innocent people from getting slaughtered.  I had no idea they were going to go in the direction they had, but it was a nice surprise and an intriguing story nonetheless.  Grillo had definitely made a splash and I believe he deserves the recognition he’s receiving.  With his standout performance in The Grey to his recurring character of “Crossbones” in the Captain America films, Grillo certainly has a presence when he’s featured on the screen and I’m always eager to see him.

So, yes, writer and director James DeMonaco made a nice choice to move this series from a simple home invasion tale to opening it up for us to see what’s really out there during this crazy 12-hour period that goes on once a year.  From the first film, that’s really been the highlight in promoting each film, as we see the mysterious and creepy characters who don masks for the annual purge.  In the first film, that was the one aspect that worked so well in selling it and it continued to work through these last two outings too.

Within these films there are certainly some symbolism at play, showing us, in extreme harsh light, what the world has always faced—the divide of the wealthy and the impoverished.  DeMonaco is undoubtedly trying to convey this throughout this series of films and it worked so brilliantly in Anarchy.  Here, it’s pushed a little too in-your-face, but with the addition of the government side of it—especially giving us an up-close look at the “New Founding Fathers of America”—it gives us a fresh take in the series.

As in the film before, we cut back and forth from certain groups of characters and what they’re all about. 

First off, we get a flashback scene of Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) and what had happened to her family during an annual Purge Night long ago, which is what drives her into the career path that she’s chosen.  After witnessing what she had gone through and having the story return to the present (or the year 2025, I believe), we understand why the senator is campaigning for the Presidency of the United States, as one of her stances is to end Purge Night if she’s elected.  Of course, this sets in motion the main crux of the story, leading us to meet the members of the New Founding Fathers of America and to see that they are determined to see that Roan does not win the election by any means necessary.

Frank Grillo returning as Leo Barnes was a breath of fresh air and his character is more cut-and-dry in this film.  In the previous film, we see him as a man set out for revenge, purposely going out into the city as he’s got his mind set on killing the man who had killed his son and had gotten off easy.  Here, Leo is shown as a good guy, standing with the senator as head of her security, making sure she’s safe during her campaign appearances or remaining in her home during Purge Night (at her insistence, not wanting to be holed up in some elaborate fort as she doesn’t want to appear to be better than the people who vote for her).

To even out the scenes of the wealthy, we meet deli store owner, Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson, of Forrest Gump fame), and his employee, Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria).  We’re also introduced to a friend of Joe’s, Laney (Betty Gabriel), who is a frequent patron of the store and is hinted at early on that she’s some sort of well-known badass during past Purge Nights.  They all play a close-knit group of friends and end up being a pivotal ensemble throughout the story.  Just to add to their representation of the humble part of the populace, an idea is presented here as Joe gets a call from his insurance company to inform him that his Purge Policy has been raised to an unaffordable price.  This, of course, sets Joe’s subplot into motion as he has to keep watch on his place of business during Purge Night.

One interesting plot thread that we see in this film is that the event is so widespread that it appears to be well known in other countries.  I felt this was a nice touch that DeMonaco added, showing a little subversion to the story to introduce foreigners actually making the trek to America so that they may take part in the annual event.  Not only that, but the characters we see come back later in the film for an interesting and exciting scene.

Now, the horrific scenes in this outing are not so bad and seems as if it were purposefully tamed down a bit.  But don’t get me wrong...the scenes that do feature people making use of Purge Night is pretty cringe-worthy and might make you turn your head at times.  However, it seems as if we get more character development in this sequel rather than focusing on the acts of violence.  Which is a good thing, in my opinion, because at this point, we know what will happen to the characters who make themselves vulnerable out in the city and realize the dangers they face.  It’s better to focus on how the group bands together and figures out how to get themselves out of a mess.

To be fair and to point out some manufactured facets of the story, this brings me to the amount of conveniences, and inconveniences, I’d noticed—which can be very conspicuous to anyone watching this—throughout the film.  During many times in the course of the story, when the main characters find themselves in a safe location where they can wait out the event and get through the night unscathed, there always seems to be a dumb reason—or at least contrived—to get them back out into the open to risk the dangers.  There are also a few times where they find themselves in a no-win situation and a just-in-the-nick-of-time act gets them saved.  Many times it turns out to be Joe who makes these scenes turn out the way they do—whether it’s him wanting to head back to his store or how he happens to know the Crips’ gang whistle that gets them out of a bind.  Other times, it’s the clich├ęd “cavalry” that shows up to save the day (or night).

A little fun fact before I get into my final words of the review—the actor who plays the anarchist-against-the-purge character, Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge), is the only actor in this film who has had a role in each of the three films in this series.

So without further ado, here is my final “bit” on The Purge: Election Year...

I had been worried as I’d gone into this movie, thinking that the first sequel had gotten lucky with the success it had gained and that this sequel was going to be as boring as the first one had been.  It probably would have if not for Frank Grillo returning to his character of Leo Barnes.  Additionally, the other characters hold their own and are more developed than the side characters of Anarchy, where they appeared to be one-dimensional caricatures of people in danger.  Elizabeth Mitchell (of “Lost” fame) does a fine job as a Senator/Presidential hopeful and it sort of mirrors how the U.S. currently has a female candidate in the running as we speak, albeit one who isn’t as trustworthy as Senator Roan (let’s face it, if she were in this film, she’d be more on the N.F.F.A. side and probably would not put a stop to Purge Night).  Anyway, here, in Election Year, we get more emotionally attached to the protagonists and care about them a lot more than we’ve done in the first two films.  Though the violence is few and far between, the world is opened up more for us here and shows us that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Overall, it’s a fun movie to go through and there are plenty of tense moments to boot.  See it while it’s still in theaters if you can...and to let you know how I really feel about it, I'll say that I’m definitely going to add this to my Blu-Ray collection once it’s released onto home media. 

Universal Studios really has a winner here and I hope they take good care of it, especially the writer and director of all three films—James DeMonaco.  He doesn’t have much experience in the director’s chair, but what he’s done so far speaks volumes.  I’m not sure if he’ll be attached to the next sequel when/if it happens, but I’d be interested to see where he’ll go next with this series.

As a side note, there is a bit of an implication that we’ll see another sequel and although we’ve had it ingrained into our DNA by now, do not wait through the credits because you won’t see anything there—no after-credits stinger.

Thanks for reading!

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