Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Writer-Director James DeMonaco’s THE PURGE franchise sets up a fascinating alternate horrific reality that isn’t too dissimilar from our own terrifying one. It preaches the dangers of a new conservative world order where the ensuing chapters of the saga level up on the future American public’s bloodlust and carnage. However, clever ideas and ambitious socio-political commentary only go so far as evidenced by the third film, THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR. DeMonaco stops short, abruptly only scratching the surface with his observations about politics and religion, choosing to favor painting evil with laughable broadstrokes.
It’s 2025 (as we infer from one innocuous line later in the film) and the New Founding Fathers of America’s Purge initiative has been exposed as a tool of the government to exterminate poor people. The fewer poor people there are, the less the government has to pay out in welfare and the more they’ll be able to pocket. After watching her entire family be slaughtered in the Purge eighteen years ago, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is running for President, hoping to do away with the inhumane archaic holiday – and she’s pulling ahead in the polls with her tough stance. She’s the NFFA’s greatest threat and you better believe they’ve put a price on her head for the upcoming Purge night. It’s up to her head of security Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), who survived the harrowing holiday two years prior, to help her get through the night – which won’t be easy since she’s being hunted by a White Power group. In order to survive, the pair join up with deli/ convenient store owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson), hardworking Mexican immigrant Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), bad-ass EMT Laney (Betty Gabriel) and Purge detractor/ underground militant Dante (Edwin Hodge).
Politicians misappropriating what our forefathers and God wrote is fertile ground for ingenious ideas, yet DeMonaco doesn’t bother to water his garden. RED STATE showed more restraint. His commentary is all superficial, maddeningly delivered in ham-handed fashion. Tertiary characters are caricatures versus characters. There should be ample things to say about immigration and government greed, but there’s no deeper meaning to be found from Marcos and the Euro-trash murder tourists. Plus, there’s nothing new gleaned from the socio-political insights of the prior films. His script would rather tell you what these people did rather than show you who they are. They are clichéd stereotypes. Grillo goes from leading man to ensemble member in no time at all. This film suffers severely from having no hero moment. It’s almost as if DeMonaco took all the parts that didn’t work from the original and its superior sequel (THE PURGE: ANARCHY), put them in a blender and combined into this toxic cocktail.
DeMonaco’s direction basks in the foreplay before the act of killing, preferring goofy “trailer-worthy” moments to actual layered visual storytelling. None of these masked violators add creeps, authentic frights or indelible imagery. Nathan Whitehead’s swelling skuzzy distorted synth score obnoxiously punctuates many scenes to the point of overload. The sequence with scantily-clad school girls sporting bedazzled machine guns, skipping around their car lit up in white Christmas lights, is abysmally interminable rather than excitingly cinematic. And don’t get me started on those actresses’ (Brittany Mirabile and Juani Feliz) cartoonish, ostentatious performances. The word “subtle” is not in the vocabulary of anyone on this set.
THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR’s ultra-violence is ugly, off-putting and grotesque. So much so, any goodwill the series earned before will be completely shot. It was my hope the third film would triple the fun and smarts of the second. But as Joe says, “Hope can lead to a lot of letdowns.”
THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR opens on July 1.