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'The Purge: Election Year' Film Review: Horror franchise plays its Trump card

July 1, 2016Ben MK

We live in a world where Donald Trump stands a very real chance of being elected the next President of the United States. So, should we be surprised that there's a new Purge movie? Like the recently-deceased Paranormal Activity franchise, the series has become a regular tradition. And this year, it's getting especially topical, with a politically-themed story and, of course, lots and lots of killing.

Picking up two years after the bloody events of The Purge: Anarchy, The Purge: Election Year follows Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo, reprising his role), who's gone from a revenge-seeking former cop to a full-on Federal employee. As the head of security for U.S. Presidential candidate Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), it's Leo's job to protect the controversial, underdog Senator from her many enemies. And, of course, those enemies just can't wait for Purge Night to roll around, so that they can brutally execute Charlie without any legal consequences whatsoever.

For those who need a refresher on the central premise of the Purge films, this second sequel is set in a near-future — 2025, to be exact — where, for 12 hours a year, any and all crime (including murder) is legal. Originally concocted by a group of politicians calling themselves the New Founding Fathers, Purge Night is more than just an excuse for the country's most sociopathic to act out their deepest, darkest desires. It's also the government's way of culling the economically disenfranchised, reducing its spending and lining the pockets of its leaders in the process.

There is, however, a growing subset of the population who oppose the Purge and everything it stands for. Among them, Charlie, whose anti-Purge campaign platform has made her public enemy number one for the New Founding Fathers themselves. As a result, Charlie and Leo find themselves driven onto the streets and forced to evade a government-sanctioned death squad on Purge Night. Luckily, they also cross paths with a trio of like-minded citizens (Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria and Betty Gabriel), and together they take the fight right to the top.

Shifting the backdrop from L.A. to Washington, D.C., writer/director James DeMonaco delivers the next logical evolution in the franchise. And while Election Year doesn't improve on its predecessor as drastically as Anarchy did on the first film, it still introduces a few new elements into the mix, such as the idea of murder tourism (foreigners who come to the States just to partake in the Purge). Otherwise, the movie continues to walk that line between exploitation and education, intercutting over-the-top violence with scenes of eye-opening, allegorical truth.

Ultimately, it works. And in the end, The Purge: Election Year proves surprisingly substantial for what it is, taking what could have easily been a throwaway excuse for gratuitous violence and a straight-to-video storyline, and churning it into a darkly satirical and fairly entertaining social commentary. Granted, there are still aspects of the movie that come across as silly and clich├ęd. But for the third film in a series that began as little more than a high-concept siege picture, The Purge: Election Year makes a good case for why it deserves moviegoers' votes.

The Purge: Election Year releases July 1st, 2016 from Universal Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for disturbing bloody violence and strong language. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 45 Mins.

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