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.)

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 Purge (2013)

The PurgeRelease Date: June 7, 2013

Director: James DeMonaco

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder

Runtime: 85 min

Tagline: Survive the Night

The year is 2022. America’s economy is flourishing, the unemployment rate is at 1%, and crime is almost non-existent. Except for one night a year; for twelve hours, all crime, including murder, is legal. The police cannot be called. I guess you could call them, but no one’s going to respond. The Annual Purge lets the American people release their inner beast, or let the tiger out of the cage, if you will.

This is the story of one family during the unforgettable Annual Purge of the eerily not-so-distant future, 2022. James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) sells security systems for a living, and his family is living the American dream. They settle in for the night, all cozy in an apparently impenetrable fortress. Or so they think. The son, Charlie (Max Burkholder, that kid from Daddy Day Care who says, “I missed!”), still forming his own opinion on the Purge, assists a helpless man outside by letting him into his home. Yeah, things are going to turn out just hunky-dory for you when you do a stupid thing like that.

A small mob of scholarly young folk wearing masks comes to their door, asking for the so-called “grotesque swine” to be delivered to them within the hour, or they’ll come into the house and kill the entire family. Now, the Sandins must make a choice: Keep their morals intact and fight, or give up the stranger and become the monsters from whom they hide.

The Purge has one of the most intriguing horror movie concept in quite some time. The movie just cannot do much with it. It tries to make a point using a successful, horror/thriller formula. The thought-provoking movie challenges one’s inner morals. It isn’t more than that. It’s partly a social commentary of what America might one day never become, and a commentary on the human race’s obsession with violence; and the fact that these people would rather bash in someone’s head to let off steam, instead of hitting a watermelon or a piñata.

It’s also a rushed home invasion horror flick. None of these characters are particularly likeable. The daughter is really just doing her own thing. She’s way out of the loop, she doesn’t know what’s going around the house, which really doesn’t reflect well on the rest of the family. The father, James, is a security system salesman who’s rather unlikeable. He’s the one calling the shots for the family. Mary (Lena Headey) is easily the most likeable character, mostly because she has a strong hold on her morals, and she will frustrate you the least. The most frustrating character of all is Charlie. He is one of the stupidest characters you’ll ever see in a horror movie, and that’s saying something. He is still forming his opinion about The Purge (as he’s supposed to be around 14 years old), and he will frustrate you a countless amount of times, and taint one’s enjoyment. (Oh, if you shine a flashlight all over the room, no one will see the light from underneath the door. Idiot.) His character represents the minority of people, the ones who do not support The Purge. The morals of this family clashes with the apparent norm of this futuristic society, that it’s all right to commit all the crimes one can, because there really isn’t anyone stopping you. And it also brings about class warfare. If you can afford the protection, that’s better for you. It kind-of makes me think this mirrors the two-tier health care system, because the rich are better off. If one can afford the protection, they probably won’t die; if one can’t afford protection, they’re screwed.

The Purge party of scholars led by a character called Polite Leader (Rhys Wakefield sporting an eerie smile) only want their target for their Annual Purge, but now I’m thinking they just want to kill as many people as they can muster. Only seconds after requesting their target, they cut the power to the Sandin home; making it that much harder for the Sandin’s to actually acquire the intruder, whose character name is Bloody Stranger. There are a few other problems with this group… What’s the point of wearing masks if all crimes are legal? They must be trying to be scarier, since they really are only apparently smart hooligans. (See, there might be a point to it – because nerds with machetes really aren’t so terrifying. Right?) These weirdos are also knocking on all the windows, swinging on swings, making threatening motions, staring into the cameras all weird, making menacing faces… Because that isn’t distracting enough when you’re trying to find someone with the power out, right?

The film has a bland, 10-minute introduction; a 40-minute suspenseful build-up; and a meager 25-minute (or so) pay-off. The first ten minutes are bland, at best; mostly because there’s simply a lot of insincere smiling and traditional, “Have a safe night, okay?” There’s a large focus on the social commentary, and a miniature one on the actual home invasion. Movie-goers will be buying tickets to the home invasion aspect; and there’s hardly enough of it. Once one digs underneath its original and intriguing concept, they will find The Strangers set in the year 2022. The masks, the themes, the atmosphere, and some of the scenes are similar. It seems we have received a sequel to The Strangers after all. Beneath the surface, this plays out like every other horror movie. It’s a true disappointment.

The movie’s suspenseful, but rarely scary. It is billed as a sci-fi horror/thriller flick, not a suspense movie; so that’s a true issue. You’ll jump two or three times, maybe. The concept is scary, because you’d be anxious enough waiting the eight minutes for the cops to appear; and in this situation, they’re not going to show. The masks are creepy, but not nearly as creepy as an insane, well-dressed Polite Leader with a chilling grin. Rhys Wakefield rocks the role, and he’s certainly the most memorable thing about this low-budget horror flick. He seems ecstatic that he might be able to kill a whole family, and not just the party’s target. He’s very menacing. The only other thing that is likely to haunt your dreams is an eerie Chucky-esque doll/camera/radio-controlled car contraption controlled by Charlie. Other than those two things, most of the scary-ish things about this movie left my mind – and I slept like a baby. This hardly leaves a lasting impression, and since I’m a paranoid person; by God, horror movies need to keep me up at night to receive a great grade.

The concept helps make this memorable. The general movie only ends up being incredibly average. The movie also falls victim to countless, frustrating clichés. This will leave a lot of movie-goers disappointed. Rhys Wakefield is the only other thing that makes this worthwhile at all; but this is still the latest movie to be added to the Great Concept, Poor Execution category.

57/100