The Purge: Election Year

'The Purge - Election Year' movie poster

Release: Friday, July 1, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: James DeMonaco

Directed by: James DeMonaco

I am convinced the French marketing for the third Purge film (see above) is the most responsible form of it we have. The Purge: Election Year manages to be as inane as it looks and here is a movie poster that pulls no punches when it comes to revealing the truth. Cheap-looking and tacky the movie may not be, but it is unconvincing. Often hilariously so.

Though there are no Donald Trump masks involved (surprising, given writer-director James DeMonaco’s affinity for being overt) there is no doubt that the third Purge is intended as his own State of the Union address as it applies to a country being torn apart from the inside by mass shootings, gang and race-related violence and other forms of 21st-Century-friendly terms like ‘terrorism.’ Election Year is now, it is eminent and it is, supposedly, urgent. And so the French movie title starts feeling apropos.

Previous installments — one which took place entirely within the confines of an upper-middle class suburban abode and the other upon the streets of Los Angeles — worked tirelessly in addressing the growing divide between the have’s (the one-percenters of this fine country) and the have-not’s (everyone else in comparison) by creatively demonstrating the rage that festers within a 12-hour period one night out of the year. We’ve come to understand that purge night, rather than being a means for the American people to cleanse themselves of any sort of violence, is just the government’s way of shedding the nation of its burdens: the weak and the poor. A third installment hypothetically could add depth to this bleak, dystopian portrait of government-sponsored terror but what eventuates are just echoes of the themes it has hastily carted out on a dolly since the first round.

Once again we’re set in the near-future and purge night is upon us. Wait, let me back up a little bit. We first witness the events that inspire a young Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) to become a Senator for good. Eighteen years after watching her entire family get murdered at the hands of a lunatic purger, she’s campaigning for the Presidency, vowing to eliminate this terrible night once and for all. Such a devastating loss drives the woman’s powerful but dangerous idealism. She has to win the election and wrestle control of the country away from the New Founding Fathers, but she also refuses to use murder as her path to victory as that wouldn’t make her any different from those who purge.

Frank Grillo returns as former police sergeant Leo Barnes. Once he’s in the picture, the film picks up in both the excitement and intensity departments. After surviving the horrendous events of Anarchy, Barnes has signed on as part of Senator Roan’s security detail and finds himself this time protecting a highly valuable asset as the New Founding Fathers have decided to take a firmer stance against opponents of the purge. They do so by revoking high-level official’s security Level 9 million-whatever clearance, a.k.a. their immunity to the lawlessness of the night. The Senator of course would prefer to wait the night out in her own home. Leo doesn’t think that’s a smart idea; it’s not. Soon we’re back out on the streets after a betrayal. Ya know, the usual.

Leo once again is surrounded by a group of citizens of indeterminate firearm-wielding skill and whose political leanings essentially boil down to “F**k whoever believes in the purge.” Meanwhile, a resistance group is forming somewhere in downtown Washington and there begins to breed a new kind of morality to the violence. But Leo’s gang ain’t like that; they’re comprised of proud deli owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson), his assistant and Mexican immigrant Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and a tough-as-nails EMT named Laney played by a fun Betty Gabriel — she’s arguably the film’s best offering beyond Grillo.

Election Year finds the city center of Ridiculous soon enough. We’re slowly pulled into the world of anti-purgers gathering in secrecy at some undisclosed (even in this review) location, preparing to wage war against the NFFA, namely Executive Douchebag Caleb Warren (Raymond J. Barry), the ring leader whose vileness must be measured by how many nasty words he can fit into one monologue. That’s the kind of lazy writing that has become a frustrating pattern in this franchise. DeMonaco’s creation has this fascinating psycho-social science dynamic that routinely gets left behind in favor of tired genre tropes and subpar acting (and directing).

The major offense here though is that three provides entirely too much déjà vu. DeMonaco attempts to expand the scope of the narrative by including a terribly ill-advised subplot in which ‘murder tourism’ has become a thing. Apparently it’s not enough that everyone in America is out in the streets killing each other to death; now we have an influx of South Africans (sorry Zoe; Natasha . . . ) coming stateside just to kill people. Don’t laugh (it’s okay, I almost did). The fact that the purge has caught on internationally and is now being marketed as a tourist package is just silliness defined.

Come to think of it, much of this franchise has been just that. Take a look at any number of those peculiar seance scenes in which small groups of well-dressed caucasians gather and either make a sacrifice or just repeat the phrase “purge and purify” ad nauseam (actually, it’s usually both). I look to those moments for an encapsulation of everything The Purge has been: pure nonsense and half-hearted attempts at profundity. Excuse me while I go purge all of my disappointment from memory.

Frank Grillo and Elizabeth Mitchell in The Purge - Election Year

Recommendation: Gee, I wonder what the director’s stance on gun control is. The amount of mileage you get out of The Purge: Election Year (or as I prefer, American Nightmare 3: Elections) will depend on how much you enjoy just being stuck in this particularly dark universe. There’s no doubt DeMonaco and his cinematographer have crafted a unique visual identity but in terms of story they simply never even try to attain the heights their unusual, intriguing premise(s) suggest. You can always count on Frank Grillo though and paired up with Elizabeth Mitchell’s Senator he is better than ever. The rest though leaves a lot to be desired and I don’t know if I want to sit through more.

Rated: R

Running Time: 105 mins.

Quoted: “Good night, blue cheese!” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Purge: Anarchy

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Release: Friday, July 18, 2014

[Theater]

The Purge: Anarchy offers you yet another chance to let it all out with a second blood-splattering of twisted social commentary.

Instead of running around blindly inside a house defending ourselves from masked invaders as we had done only last summer with the Sandins, now we band together with several nondescript characters in the streets of downtown Los Angeles. It’s the year 2023 and the sixth annual purge is set to commence. Get your shotguns ready, kiddies.

There was so much lost in the transfer of The Purge from script to screen. This grisly thriller was so ineffective in selling its audiences that a sequel became necessary as if to say, “Oh yeah! Wait. Here’s what we meant.” Though the acting isn’t much of an improvement, getting out of the house has proven to be the healthiest thing for this possible franchise-in-the-making.

One of the great missteps made by DeMonaco and company last year was stunting the growth of some of the admittedly intriguing concepts, about how one man’s choice to kill a fellow human being would invariably differ from the man standing to his left or his right. Or about how class struggles between the very wealthy and the destitute could make the choice to murder a much easier, and possibly even an economical one. What The Purge boiled down to was a luke-warm home invasion procedure, where audiences were relegated to surviving jump scares and a few squirts of blood as forms of entertainment.

The Purge: Anarchy actually stumbles just as much as its predecessor, almost as if it were stabbed in the gut, but the novelty of this evening and the concept manifest themselves in more convincing ways this time around. There’s more to focus on here. More by which to become distracted from the cheesy dialogue and over-acting. Rather than running into dead ends and hallway doors every ten minutes, DeMonaco’s new script presents more characters, more creative kills and more ethical dilemmas to mix up the tension, the violence and the surprises in a much more engaging way that The Purge simply wasn’t able to. Instead of centering around an average family that failed to really gain our sympathy, even as they were being invaded on this horrible night, we now become drawn into a cauldron of desperation and panic via three different walks of life.

We are firstly introduced to a mother-daughter dynamic between a woman who works in a diner, Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul). Eva’s working hard to earn a raise so she’ll be able to afford her father’s medicine, medicine that’s apparently not having much of an impact on whatever his ailment is. The second perspective comes in the form of a young couple fallen on hard times and actually considering separating soon — Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez portray Shane and Liz who are driving to a safe place before the commencement of the purge before they predictably break down in an unsafe part of town. Then, of course, we get the requisite battle-hardened man, a man who knows what real loss feels like. Frank Grillo seems somewhat suited for the job and is Anarchy‘s most interesting character by a long shot.

He’s relatively boring still. And a bad cliché at that. This is to suggest the rest of the ensemble are completely stock characters, and they are. There’s not a single trait among the four others that rings the bell of originality, and oftentimes many of them are completely frustrating. Cali’s infatuation with Sergeant is most vividly irritating, though the dynamic between them is not as bad, ironically, as the one between her and her on-screen mother.

But we’re not here to scrutinize every last performance. To do so in Anarchy would render this review a rant, for at least The Purge had Ethan Hawke. It wasted Ethan Hawke, but it did have him in it. Maybe it ought to be considered a consolation prize being dubbed a waste in these films. Hawke was underused and underwritten in 2013 whereas Grillo has to contend with a thoroughly expressionless and stiff character whose ultimate trajectory is one of complete predictability.

Fortunately, the bloodletting and the overarching narrative that is Anarchy isn’t quite as much. Each group of characters journey through this night in different stages of shock and each have different reactions, which allows for easier access into this world as compared to a snooty family being protected by a modern fortress. Far be it from me to tell the director how to shoot his own work, but this approach to his curious ethical dilemma here is far more interesting and says much more about the human condition than whatever it was that he came up with a year ago.

If you want to remember all the good the purge does, may I recommend you see this film rather than what came before it.

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“O fuck’s sake, this again?”

2-5Recommendation: Though still engorged with its share of narrative flaws, character woes, and thematic tenuity, The Purge: Anarchy is, at the end of the day, a mark of maturity. There are expansions in almost every direction and the most rewarding one is the physical: the setting helps to actually crank up the tension, whereas the home setting in the previous did everything it could to water down what could have been an additionally chilling indictment of a culture increasingly infatuated with violence as a means of self-expression. And I honestly would give the rare recommendation of seeing the second film before the first.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “People like us don’t survive tonight!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com