Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Movie Review: The Purge: Election Year

The Purge: Election Year
Directed by: James DeMonaco.
Written by: James DeMonaco.
Starring: Frank Grillo (Leo Barnes), Elizabeth Mitchell (Senator Charlie Roan), Mykelti Williamson (Joe Dixon), Joseph Julian Soria (Marcos), Betty Gabriel (Laney Rucker), Terry Serpico (Earl Danzinger), Edwin Hodge (Dante Bishop), Kyle Secor (Minister Edwidge Owens), Raymond J. Barry (Leader Caleb Warrens), Naheem Garcia (Angel Munoz), Brittany Mirabile (Schoolgirl #1 Freakbride / Kimmy). 
Make no mistake – the premise behind The Purge movies is more than silly, its outright ridiculous – that any government would allow 12 hours a year when citizens can break whatever laws they want isn’t even in the realm of plausibility – let alone that it would have the effect that the trilogy of films has said it has (having said that, as I pointed out in my review of the original film, the Purge isn’t really that much more implausible that a lot of teenage dystopia movies either – especially The Divergent Saga). Also, it’s pretty hard to deny that the films themselves are more than a little hypocritical – they are films that are quite clearly against the type of violence that happens on the annual Purge night in the films, while at the same time, the films revel in that violence – hardly flinching away as the characters – both good and evil, shoot, stab, hack and slash their bloody way through the movies. The movie isn’t doing something thoughtful – like say, David Cronenberg has done numerous times in the past, where he’ll give you scenes that satisfy your bloodlust, and then push them a little further, or make the audience sit with the results of that bloodlust, and make them question what it is they wanted in the first place. The Purge films really do want to have their cake and eat it to. Yet, despite these very obvious flaws in The Purge movies, I have to admit that the trilogy works despite them. If we expect the ridiculous premise of the film at face value – which you really do have to do in a film like this, because fighting it for 90 minutes is an exercise in futility, and will get you nowhere, you really do have to wonder what the film is saying about American society. This is a country that is so in love with guns that the feel that a classroom full of dead 6-year olds in a worthwhile price for unfettered access to whatever weapons they want. This is a country where it doesn’t seem like we can go a week without someone committing a mass shooting, leaving countless victims in their wake – even when they know there will be consequences to those actions. This is a country that allows Donald Trump to spew hate filled speech that encourages the fear of “the other”, which often leads to violence. Ask yourself this question – in today’s America, if there really was an annual Purge night, how many people would take part?
In the third film in the Purge trilogy, the anti-Purge activists seems to be gaining ground on the New Founding Fathers – the political party responsible for the Purge in the first place. More and more, people are starting to see that the Purge night is really a conspiracy to rid the country of undesirables – the poor and homeless who “suck resources” and do not contribute – while at the same time making huge profits for insurance companies, gun companies and the NRA – who then funnel it back to the New Founding Fathers for elections. But now, there is a new voice – Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) – who was the lone survivor from her family from a hellacious Purge night as a teenager, and is now a leader Presidential candidate, who vows to end the Purge with her first act in office. And, she just may well – the polls between her and her competition, Minister Edwidge Owns (Kyle Secor) are close. The New Founding Fathers then have a plan – under the guise of making purge night “more fair”, they remove the restrictions against killing government officials, which normally would have protected Roan. She can now be killed – and while her head of security, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo, reprising his role from the second film) wants her to flee for the night, she refuses. It’s a mistake – because of course, the New Founding Fathers send some people after her, and Leo and the Senator have to go on the run to try and survive. They do so with the help of a trio of people they meet on the outside – deli owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson), who is determined to protect his store no matter what, his Mexican immigrant employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), who will do anything to help him, and former gang banger turned good Samaritan Laney (Betty Gabriel) – who spends Purge night driving around in a triage van, and delivering the wounded to safety.
As the series has progressed, the scope of the films has gotten wider, and they’ve gone from horror films to more violent action films. The first film was very narrowly focused on one house – that of a man who makes money selling security systems to protect people from the Purge (Ethan Hawke) – and his family, who are not as safe as they thought they were (he tries to explain to his wife – Lena Headley – that his systems were never designed to be foolproof – but to really just be more a deterrent than anything else – she is not amused). The Purge: Anarchy went outside into the streets for the first time, to show just how bad things had gotten out there. Now, with The Purge: Election Year, writer/director James DeMonaco, is showing the macro view from the government on down, and how the wider America is dealing with things. This is one of the reasons why the film isn’t as scary as the first film was – which, after all, was basically a home invasion thriller, with a political bent that it abandoned whenever it needed some violence and terror. The Purge: Election Year does the same thing at times – bringing up its politics, but abandoning them whenever it needs to spill some blood. The film also continues the series’ racial point-of-view, which is muddled and problematic, if well-meaning. On one hand, it is refreshing to see a film actually get the racial mix of Washington D.C. right – as well as the neighborhoods (my visit to America’s capital was weird – one street is full of fancy restaurants and museums, walk a block and you’re amongst homeless shelters and drug clinics) – and the film does quite clearly know that is overwhelmingly minorities that something like The Purge targets (which has been true since the first film). Still, though, it’s fairly undeniable that in The Purge: Election Year, Roan is a “white savior” type character, and Frank Grillo gets to play the biggest badass – while multiple black characters sacrifice themselves on their behalf, which doesn’t sit right.
The Purge films may be silly and violent and hypocritical and problematic – and yet despite of these things, for the most part, I like the films. They provide a horribly cynical view of humanity in general, and American specifically (I would have liked the idea of murder tourism, which is mentioned here, more fully explored) – even as the film ends somewhat optimistically, it still undercuts that. Perhaps this is the last Purge film, perhaps not  - it seems like a fitting to stop, yet the film made three times it budget in its opening weekend, so more films may be too tempting to pass up. The films, as flawed as they are, do you give you something to chew on and think about – which a lot of films don’t.

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