The Purge: Election Year | Film review – Carnivalesque anarchy gets the vote

James DeMonaco’s horror thriller franchise takes a chainsaw to the American body politic with the scarily timely The Purge: Election Year.

The Purge Election Year Mykelti Williamson Frank Grillo JJ Soria Betty Gabriel Elizabeth Mitchell

In the present political climate, rapiers are out as a satirical weapon of choice. To be honest, these days, even sledgehammers seem pretty ineffectual. Instead, with the US presidential election getting ever more surreal and savagely stupid, letting rip at the American body politic with a chainsaw appears the only recourse.

Writer-director James DeMonaco revs up his bloody saw with The Purge: Election Year, the third in his series of deliriously pumped-up, high-concept horror thrillers. Like its predecessors, Election Year is set in a dystopian near-future United States where all crimes, including murder, are legal on one night of the year. DeMonaco’s movies are unmistakably blunt and unsubtle, but their vision of a society in which a wealthy elite games the system at the expense of the poor does seem ever more disturbingly prescient.

In Election Year, the message is blatant. America’s corrupt rulers, the New Founding Fathers of America, are using the annual Purge Night as a means of culling the country’s lower orders.  Pointedly, the NFFA are exclusively white, country-club types, while their victims are largely black and Hispanic.

Now, however, a blonde liberal senator is mounting a challenge. Eighteen years after losing her family to the Purge, Charlene Roan (Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell) is campaigning for the presidency, vowing to end the Purge for good if she gets elected. First, though, she has to survive Purge Night.

The Purge Election Year Frank Grillo Elizabeth Mitchell

“Carnivalesque anarchy”

Unsurprisingly, the NFFA has assassination planned for her. Can her dogged head of security, Leo Barnes (The Purge: Anarchy’s returning lead Frank Grillo now given a name and a new job) keep her alive until morning?

There’s more than a hint of Escape from New York to the ensuing action as Leo and Charlie strive to evade the squad of heavily-armed neo-Nazi thugs on their tail, while also avoiding the lethal intentions of sundry sadists, thrill-seekers and murder tourists hoping to make the most of the opportunities offered by Purge Night.

The duo pick up various allies along the way, including a gun-toting shopkeeper (Mykelti Williamson) and his similarly tooled-up assistant (Joseph Julian Soria), as well as Edwin Hodge’s badass anti-NFFA revolutionary (another returning character) and Betty Gabriel’s even more badass volunteer ambulance driver.

Like her, DeMonaco keeps his pedal to the metal throughout. The relentless pace means there’s no room for nuance – and no danger of being in any doubt about who we should be rooting for. Compared with the carnivalesque anarchy on the streets, the main villains are a colourless lot (in more than one sense). But the comeuppance wrought upon a pair of lippy teenage shoplifters will probably still get you cheering.


Certificate 15. Runtime 109 mins. Director James DeMonaco

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