The Purge was something of a dystopian masterstroke, a high-concept idea that was surprisingly effective and mordantly wicked: in the near future, the US government have annually sanctioned murder for 12 hours in order to reduce unemployment and allow a momentary catharsis that assures 364 days of lowered crime. The result was a claustrophobic B-movie thriller that unsubtly doubled up as a socio-political allegory and which lead to bigger, John Carpenter-esque follow-up.
This year’s inevitable – and timely – third instalment sees franchise writer and director James DeMonaco offer a thinly veiled twist on this year’s US election: we follow an anti-Purge Senator (Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell) as she goes up against the reactionary Tea Party-like Purge profiteers, who conspire to have their political opponent assassinated so that their zealot presidential candidate beats her to the White House.
From the get-go, The Purge: Election Year aims for social commentary and cheaply achieves it. It isn’t hard to see the caricatured critique on the current fracture within US politics, but DeMonaco fails to fully capitalise on this fortuitous timing or his compellingly bonkers “Halloween for adults” premise; instead, his third chapter descends into generic shoot-em-up territory when it should be offering biting digs within some trashy grindhouse shocks.
Undoubtedly the least interesting or darkly humorous of the trilogy, there are nonetheless some interesting touches here, including the conservative agenda to wipe out the lower class via the purges and the new phenomenon of “murder tourists” visiting from abroad in order to live the American dream. It is also undeniable that DeMonaco has an eye for striking imagery: his contained tableaus feature the bloodied Lincoln memorial, a woman warming her hands on the burning carcass of a loved one, and bloodied bystanders strapped to the bonnet of a speeding car. One only wishes that he could have made the satire more savage, the thrills more tense and these nightmarish images the centrepieces of this trilogy closer. As it is, it fails to make a killing.
The Purge: Election Year / Directed by James DeMonaco (USA, 2016) with Elizabeth Mitchell, Frank Grillo. Starts September 15.