Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"The Purge: Election Year" Review: Somehow This Franchise Seems To Be Getting Better With Each Itteration


The Purge franchise is something of an enigma compared to its peers. The Saw and Paranormal Activity franchises respectively were also part of this sort of annual sequel structure but where as they both received declining interest with each subsequent sequel The Purge films have held on strong. There are many reasons one can site for this such as The Purge releasing a sequel every other year as opposed to annually and the premise lends itself to new points of view to be explored each time out, but in practice the real reason the franchise has seemingly outlasted its expiration date may be the fact that each film appears to learn from the mistakes of its predecessors and actually improves with each iteration. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime:  1 hr 45 min
Studio: Universal Pictures
Release Date: July 1, 2016

Biases:  
Loves: Mindless B movie action with substance
Likes: Purge: Anarchy, Frank Grillo
Neutral: Not too much of a story there
Hates: The original Purge
What's next for the Purge franchise?: It appears that a revolution is about to break out...hopefully this isn't gonna be The Purge: Mockingjay.

The Senator prepares for this year's Purge.

20 years after watching her entire family slaughtered during the annual Purge, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is running for office in order to put a stop to the long running event. Despite seeing a lot of support amongst her peers however, she is in danger of not only losing the majority vote but come this year's Purge in danger of losing her life as the current Founders have abolished the restriction of politicians being targeted during the purge and have their sights set on taking her out before the upcoming election. The only person standing in their way is Senator Roan's trusted body guard and all around bad ass Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) who also wants the Purge stopped for his own reasons and believes she is the only person that can make it happen.

The first Purge film was let down by a weak script and a limited scope. The premise of the Purge is so tantalizing and rife with possibilities that keeping the focus on a single family unit in a single location for the entirety of the film never saw it reach its full potential. Then a couple years later we were treated to its sequel The Purge: Anarchy (henceforth to be known as PA) which introduced the world to the awesomeness of Frank Grillo's Leo but also opened the playing field to encompass the entire L.A. city. As its title promised anarchy ruled the streets and we got our first real indication that there was a lot more to explore in a film franchise that at first felt dead on arrival.

Leo must keep the Senator safe at all costs and actually kind of sucks at it.

Now we have the third film The Purge: Election Year (henceforth to be known as PEY) which seems to be following suit by providing an even bigger landscape by taking the action to Washington D.C. and doing something neither of the past films were able to pull off, actually make us care if someone lives or dies. Now don't go thinking this is some sort of masterpiece of cinema or anything as it still fits firmly into the B movie category but where it shines the most is how it has fully realized the B movie thrills that the first film promised and failed to deliver. Yes PA also did this but not nearly as effectively as PEY sets up the stakes and executes its narrative ducks all in a row.

It may sound sort of simple and like basic logic but it is important to get your audience engaged in a character's plight, especially in films dealing with subsets of the horror genre. But you would be surprised at how many films just outright fail at providing any sort of relatable or even likeable protagonist. PEY mildly succeeds in this category with how it introduces us to Senator Roan, a strong woman with a righteous purpose we immediately identify, understand her crusade and the great lengths she is willing to go to win. Likewise but in a lesser instance we understand Leo's devotion to protecting the Senator due to what he went through in PA which makes them a strong pair to navigate the dangerous streets during purge night with.

These of course are well adjusted individuals who only go crazy for one night a year...right?

Sadly this does not translate to any of the more minor characters. We are introduced to a handful of lower income folk who conveniently all have varying opinions on the purge, who should be elected, what to do on purge night and predictably all have their beliefs called into question throughout the course of the film. There is the shop owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson) who just wants to protect his store after getting price hiked by his purge insurance carrier, his immigrant employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) who just wants to do the right thing, the strong female role model Laney (Betty Gabriel) with a shady past and a revolutionary who wants to use the revised laws to take out the founders. They aren't bad or even all that uninteresting, they just feel as though they are part of the film to support a set of events than to lend any real substance to the story.

The only thing that is more of a let down than that lot though are the people trying to kill them. Once again we have assembled a number of mostly psychotic purgers whom I refuse to believe have the patience and/or ability to restrict their homicidal tendencies to only one night a year. The best example of this is the candy bar girl who along with all her fellow psycho sisters rolls around covered in bloody skimpy schoolgirl outfits causing mayhem. The problem isn't that they are crazy the problem is that they are too crazy to be believable. They are of course joined by an assortment of lunatics such as freaks using bodies hanging from trees as push cushions, others going full on mad max by strapping people to the hood of their car and my personal favorite, someone using a drone to find their victims (this was actually kind of cool) and with the introduction of murder tourism a handful of tourists traveling to the United States to partake in all the mayhem and as they put it, "Do what Americans do best, kill". The fact that we see very few "normal" people purging is still this franchise's biggest Achilles heel.

We do get to see some more normal types do horrible things during the purge.

One of the biggest criticisms I laid to the original Purge was that it didn't do enough to explain how this alternate reality worked in conjunction with this law. Sure we had some rules explained and knew that certain things were off limits but there was very little in the way of establishing how society functioned before, on and after each purge. While there are still a lot of questions that need answering (who is to stop terrorists from taking advantage of purge night and/or people looking to take down financial institutions?) we do get some fun little tidbits such as a moment ripped straight out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail where a vehicle roams the streets telling people to "Bring out your dead!" as well as seeing some mobile volunteer triage units looking to help people. Things like that help give some much needed depth and personality to the franchise other than just solely focusing on all the murder and mayhem.

PEY isn't a perfect film and still feels way too focused on the purge itself than the people it effects, but it makes some significant strides in providing at least a couple characters we feel sympathy towards and giving us a reason to care. If the first Purge was a proof of concept and PA was a refinement of that concept, PEY is the solid foundation on which to build something more meaningful than just a bunch of murder porn. This franchise is at its best when it puts characters we care about in situations where we feel genuine fear for their well being and while PEY mostly hints at that it is safe to say that by the end of this film the groundwork has been laid for a much more fleshed out and very different purge next time around.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

PEY won't blow you away but it is a whole lot of B movie style fun. Taking the premise introduced in the original and expanding it to encompass more sympathetic characters along with a bigger playground for the mass mayhem was the right direction for the franchise to go but it still has a little ways to go before it realizes its full potential.

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