The Purge: Election Year (2016)

Directed by: James DeMonaco. Starring: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson. Runtime: 1h, 45 min. Release date: July 1, 2016.

As the U.S. Election just wrapped up the other day, I thought it would be fitting to post a review of “The Purge: Election Year”. I wrote this review back in August and did not post it, so I had to edit the end bit of the review about Donald Trump ever-so-slightly. 

“The Purge” franchise keeps getting better with each film. Perhaps writer-director James DeMonaco designed it that way – debuting the franchise with a disappointing original that executed its concept poorly, with a huge focus on politics. The one-house setting with a focus on one family was restricting and damning.Now DeMonaco has a formula set where the politics are briefly recapped and then gets right to the carnage. “Election Year” suggests he’s now realized the franchise’s fullest potential, delivering the most focused tale yet.

It’s Election year in 2025 in a very different America, where all crime is legal for 12 hours on a night a year in the Annual Purge, a holiday (for some) introduced by the New Founding Fathers of America to let Americans unleash anger and cleanse their souls, which also reduced crime rates.

It was also a way for the government to put more money in their pockets by thinning the herd and letting the rich kill America’s lowest classes who can’t protect themselves – meaning the government saves money because there are less people on welfare.

Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is a voice for those impoverished, running for president to abolish the Purge, largely because her entire family was killed in 2007’s Purge Night in a darkly amusing scene.

The NFFA fears she’s gaining ground in the race against their candidate Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor), so they use Purge Night for some “spring cleaning” to take out their enemies, specifically the Senator. To do so, they take away the protection of Level 10+ government officials, so it’s now perfectly legal to kill them.

On the politics side, learning more about the New Founding Fathers is intriguing. The Washington, D.C. setting is opportune for more characterization, and they’re like nutty people blindly following a crazy cult leader.

Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge), the only actor appear in all three films, has taken over the role of Michael K. Williams’ Carmelo Johns as NFFA’s main oppressor. Frank Grillo returns as Leo Barnes, the head of the Senator’s security detail and her main hope of survival through the Purge. His ability in combat supersedes the character himself, as he’s a badass protector with little depth. Mitchell is great as the Senator, though her morals get in the way of certain events which gets irritating.

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Mykelti Williamson, Frank Grillo, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel and Elizabeth Mitchell in The Purge: Election Year(Source)

New low-class characters include Joe (Mykelti Williamson), a deli owner who has to protecting his deli himself after his insurance company raises prices on Purge night. Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel) is a new character who drives around on Purge night helping those who can’t protect themselves. It’s noble and one of the film’s best concepts.

“Election Year” has horror in its veins thanks to creepy masks and many jump scares. It’s also scary for the low-class citizens who can’t defend themselves on Purge night. The great action and violence from “The Purge: Anarchy” is prominent, and the action sequences are fresh enough to satisfy fans of the franchise and newbies alike. The deaths are cool, especially one by guillotine. The characters are also some of the best yet, in terms of heroes.

The NFFA are cool villains, despite their baffling beliefs. There are neo-Nazi mercenaries who are good, but the main baddie, Earl Danzinger (Terry Serpico), is merely a menacing caricature. That’s what all the villains in “Election Year” feel like – caricatures of the bat-shit craziness of the America portrayed, just bloodthirsty animals wanting to purge.

A main villain, a bratty rich girl named Kimmy (Brittany Mirabile) with two puffs on her hair and a bedazzled rifle, is over-the-top and deliriously annoying – and her motivation is looting for a chocolate bar that Joe wouldn’t let her steal. She’s written in such a way that makes you impatient for her to die.

The characterization of the villains makes me believe the Polite Stranger from the 2013 original won’t be bested. The chilling performance by Rhys Wakefield made him one of the most memorable aspects. DeMonaco’s screenplay is still very good, but his villains have become forgettable.

There was an opportunity to create strong villains with murder tourists, who come from different countries to experience the Purge. Their scene is stylish and frightening. They could have been great – as they’re so prominent in marketing, decked out in patriotic masks of Presidents and the Statue of Liberty. Their potential was squandered when they started babbling about their love of America, and how they really want to kill people.

They were a disappointment, plus, they have the wrong idea: If the Purge ever became real, and it feels like it could with Trump as President, they should leave America on Purge night, not go to it.

Score: 80 out of 100

(This review originally appeared on the Movie Buff.)

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The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

Purge AnarchyReleased: July 18, 2014. Directed by: James DeMonaco. Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford. Runtime: 103 min.

After last year’s The Purge disappointed, my expectations were virtually non-existent for The Purge: Anarchy. The quick production of the sequel also contributed to my low expectations, because I appreciate a strong production value.

The film opens with three different chapters that intersect within the first 30 minutes. The first chapter is an average working mother Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo), and her daughter Cali (Zoë Soul). They represent the lower-class citizens, and they’re forced out onto the streets when a small army infiltrates their urban apartment building. Another chapter follows a police sergeant (Frank Grillo) who is out on purge night on his own accord, searching for vengeance. The third follows a middle-class couple (Liz and Shane, Kiele Sanchez and Zac Gilford respectively) whose car breaks down on the highway in downtown Los Angeles. When all of these characters intersect, a simplistic A to B plot is introduced.

 Writer/director James DeMonaco improves on the original in a lot of ways. Most notably, the high concept works better as an ultra-violent action flick, and the original’s horror aspirations just made it weaker. With a decreased amount of pop-up scares, this seems to aspire to be an action film with horror undertones – as it would be freaking scary to be out on purge night. It’s a high-concept from the mind of DeMonaco where annually each year, crimes – including murder – are completely legal for twelve hours. Of course, you can’t use weapons over Level 4 (rocket launchers would be out of the question) and you won’t legally be able to assassinate the President.

 The idea is designed to render the crime rate non-existent and to lower the unemployment rate. It’s a way for Americans to let off steam, or to “release the beast,” a right they are given by the new founding fathers of 2023. It’s also a way for the corrupt government to allow the murdering hunters to thin the herd by killing those who cannot defend themselves – the homeless and the poor. It’s also a way to control the American population, like hunters do to control the animal population.It’s also another way for Americans to be Number One in lowest unemployment rate and lowest crime rate.

 One unbelievable aspect is that people still won’t be imprisoned on non-Purge day. I don’t buy that there still won’t be money laundering or bank robberies. One thing that DeMonaco failed to take into consideration is the desperation of humans; because if they’re desperate enough, they’ll still steal or rape. Especially if they’re mentally ill, they’ll probably still kill because they could just snap. Even if they do wait until Purge day, it’s just not logical – because the justice system is what would be keeping that anger, or crazy urge to kill someone, in line.

Never-mind one’s morals or anything. There’s a bit of a more moral argument brought into this film through certain characters. One is a young woman named Cali (Zoë Soul) who is fascinated by an activist’s beliefs in the immorality of the Purge. This man, Carmelo Johns (a great Michael K. Williams), wants to fight back – because it’s legal, baby! Cali’s brief lectures to another character about the immorality of it all makes it a bit more in your face than it should have been in an average horror movie, but it adds a layer that the original was missing.

Another thing that is fascinating is the fact that some wealthy families actually purchase martyrs for Purge night. They go through sick and poor people, desperate enough to be bought out for a sum of $100k, which could help their families in great ways. It’s an intriguing little concept within the Purge mythology.

The film has good pacing and a strong third act. The characters are underdeveloped, but that’s fine with everything else going on. Since DeMonaco brings his story onto the streets of the purge night, it has much more depth and possibility of events than the first had, which was a limited home-invasion thriller with long stretches of yawn-worthy cinema. He knows where to improve and that’s great for a young filmmaker. Perhaps I enjoyed this because my expectations were non-existent, but if this is the direction the low-budget franchise is headed, it’s looking pretty good.

Score: 75 out of 100

The Grey (2012)

The Grey

Release Date: January 27, 2012

Director: Joe Carnahan

Stars: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo

Runtime: 117 min

Tagline: Live or die on this day.

The Grey was a pleasant surprise.

After their plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, six oil-workers are led to survival by a skilled huntsman (Neeson). What they soon find out is that they are being stalked by a pack of hungry wolves.

It’s actually a pretty great thrill ride, and I cannot think of any other survival film that I had a better time with than this. Liam Neeson delivers in this film, along with others who I was quite impressed by.

I liked how they did the casting in a fashion of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in the way that they had one central, well-known actor (in this case: Neeson; in Cuckoo’s Nest case: Jack Nicholson) and other moderately unknown (as I was hardly familiar with any of the other actors, with the exception of James Badge Dale as I had seen him in The Conspirator and the bad film adaptation of Lord of the Flies) actors. In this fashion, the audience takes more to the lead actor.

I was rather satisfied with the film, and the direction (as I didn’t like Carnahan’s project, Smokin’ Aces).

The thrills were grand, the plot execution was actually pretty impressive, and the character development was quite good. The only two complaints I have about the film is that at times, there was too much talking and not enough action – which, in turn, made for swell character development. It was also really quite anti-climactic; but just fast forward to after the end credits, there’s a really brief scene.

It was filled with thrills, pure entertainment, and quite a few sentimental moments.

And it has a really awesome poem that’s a nice theme of the film: “Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day.”

The film is like an awesome mix between Frozen and the badass qualities of a really good Liam Neeson action flick.

If survival films, or Liam Neeson, or good movies in general are your thing, this is a film that is worth checking out. It offered nice thrills and good characters.

80/100