by Michael B. Hock
Think about it. One for one night a year, crime is legal. (Which, I guess disqualifies it from being “crime.”) What would you do? According to the makers of The Purge and its sequels, most of us would dress up in silly outfits and take to the streets murdering other people that run out in silly outfits, and also anyone who gets caught outside unexpectedly during one of the most famous holidays ever. I guess no one wants to illegally download a couple of episodes of Game of Thrones or finally taste some sweet, sweet, endangered species meat.
Really, even if you wanted to commit a crime, why not just wait until that night and not worry about the getting away? Oh, yeah, the psychopaths who want to murder everyone.
Thus is the reality behind the Purge, the one night a year everyone gets to go wild, and “unleash their pent up aggression”. Oh, and if it murders all of the people too poor to afford to find a safe place to stay, or if anyone who can’t afford “Purge Insurance” goes bankrupt, that would be awesome, too, as the Purge is also sold as away to keep down crime and poverty. The Government will even help if needed.
I joke but the Purge movies have some of the best political commentary around. Or if they would if they would focus a little more on that instead of “Hey, how can we have the silliest costumes and the best killers.
After a short flashback to a game of “Mommy’s Choice” in which a mother has to choose a child to survive the night, The Purge: Election Year picks up shortly after the last one. Leo Barnes, (played by Frank Grillo) after choosing not to Purge his darker impulses by murdering the drunk driver who killed his kid in Purge: Anarchy (and after stumbling on the conspiracy of what the Purge really was and being let go, for some reason) now finds himself on the security detail of Senator Charlie Roan. (Elizabeth Mitchell) She was the one who survived the “Mommy’s Choice” game earlier. She’s running on a platform of “hey let’s not murder each other once year” a surprising popular platform as she’s starting to infringe on the New Founding Fathers, all of the people who still want some the Purge. As a result, for this Purge, no one is off limits. (In previous Purges, Government officials such as the President, were off limits because if people are psychopathic enough to dress up and murder people,they’d be stopped by “rules.”)
Not seeing this as an opportunity to maybe a set up and a plan murder their political rivals, Senator Roan stays in the city instead of the safe house Barnes prepared for her. Naturally, Barnes and Roan end up on the run in a Purge-infested Washington, D.C.
Oh, and some guy defends his deli from some girls who tried to shop lift there earlier in the day, because they couldn’t wait 24 hours to steal something, and decided murder was their best course of action.
Once again, the Purge: Election Year sets up some interesting ideas about the Purge. It’s a form of control, and one that not everyone likes because it pits the rich, who can afford things like “Purge Insurance” and “houses with steel doors” vs. the poor, who can’t afford those things. The idea of the Government using this as a cover to murder people isn’t followed up on as much, nor is the fact that Barnes stumbled on everything last movie, and was apparently set free following the morning siren. (Which must make calls to police and emergency personnel suck in the morning. I bet they don’t get vacation. More of a “all hands on deck” type deal.”)
This one also keeps up the idea of the Purge as more of a religious act, which at one point included Senator Roan about to be murdered in front of a congregation of New Founding Fathers, who just recently changed the rules to allow her to be Purged with everyone else. I guess no one ever heard of the term “martyr.” I’m fairly sure Google exists in that world, they may want to use it.
That’s what’s frustrating about these movies… they touch so much on this great political intrigue. What was the first Purge? How has it grown? What do other countries think of the Purge? We get a glimpse into this as a group of foreign students come over for “murder vacation”, but they’re quickly killed early in the movie for having the audacity to mess with Frank Grillo’s character. The thing with the Purge is that we get a lot of view of the street level characters, such as Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson, the heart of the movie) the deli owner I mentioned earlier, but it wants to quickly move to being a larger battle between rich vs. poor. Who can afford to Purge? Who can’t?
We get glimpses of this, like instances where the Senator ending up in a group that is going to Counter-Purge, I guess? Their killing is better than others? Or moments where we see people using freelance ambulances, trying to save anyone who may have been caught out in the Purge. It tries to balance the stories, going big and small, but in that balance we miss out on an actual story, or how the Purge really affects everyone.
The movie itself ends on a cliffhanger of an ending that once again promises some kind of intrigue along with all of the killing and violence. I’m hoping the next one follows up more with this idea. As a horror/suspense movie, it’s ok, a fun way to kill an afternoon. But it’s a movie that has potential, one to be so much more. One that needs to break away from the idea of telling a smaller story, or to embrace it fully and give us something big.