Maybe we deserve a movie like this, one that dramatizes even in an exaggerated way how corrupt our politics have become. Maybe we need to be reminded that when we allow governments, police departments and militaries to commit heinous acts of violence without consequences, this leaves the door wide open for future atrocities and inspires ordinary citizens to dehumanize at will. And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised when this becomes general fodder for a pop culture supremely hostile to people who aren’t white and rich. This is what happens when we don’t push hard enough for justice in the real world. The wicked go unpunished and bad filmmaking gets rewarded.
If you’re keeping track, this is the third movie about an insane annual holiday implemented by far right religious fanatics who have hijacked the American federal government rebranding themselves The New Founding Fathers, which sounds like a heel tag team on Raw.
In the opening scene, a young girl is the sole survivor of a Purge massacre that eliminates every other member of her family. (Why is she spared? I have no idea.) 18 years later, she’s a US Senator running to become President. Naturally, she’s opposed to The Purge but she’s running against an administration that has been in power for decades and has not suffered in the slightest for instituting a policy that disproportionately targets the poor and people of colour, although supposedly after all this time, it’s now suddenly a massive controversy. A TV news anchor reports “dozens” of protests which seem a little small and late after all this time, quite frankly. God knows these protests didn’t exist in the earlier films in this series, minus a few outspoken online rebels.
The NFF has long viewed The Purge as cathartic and cleansing, a way for Americans to purify and wring out their sin-soaked souls. (How it survived non-existent court challenges, we’ll never know.) But their grip on power is slipping which has them spooked. For this year’s officially sanctioned 12-hour slaughterfest, it’s painfully obvious what needs to be done. Only one murder needs to happen.
In the meantime, because of this supposed, belated backlash against The Purge, for the first time ever, no one is safe from danger. If citizens want to off government officials, have at it. (Maybe I’m daft but I don’t recall this earlier restriction in The Purge: Anarchy.) Remember, all crimes committed between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. on March 21 (or 22, I don’t always remember the date correctly) are immune from prosecution. This newly expanded policy is a desperate and doomed attempt to counter the growing evidence that most of the targeted victims are the poorest of the poor with little means to protect themselves and a sure sign of inevitable defeat for the NFF, one way or another. No authoritarian government ever gives up power willingly or survives.
As always, we briefly meet a few, thinly sketched characters a couple days before the shit goes down. Forrest Gump’s Mykelti Williamson is a variety store owner, J.J. Soria is his loyal employee, a formerly undocumented Mexican who became a citizen two years ago, Betty Gabriel is a loyal customer who tries to help the wounded on Purge night and Frank Grillo returns as the ex-cop who almost Purged over the death of his son in Anarchy. This time, he’s the constantly paranoid chief of security for the Senator (Elizabeth Mitchell in her sexy specs), the aforementioned Presidential candidate, who decides to stay home during The Purge.
Grillo’s not happy about this and with good reason. As it turns out, there are traitors on his security team. As the NFF’s military goons, led by a white supremacist with bad facial tattoos, infiltrate the Senator’s pitifully protected residence, our two heroes barely sneak their way out but not before Grillo takes a bullet in the chest when they think they’re in the clear. It’s only later he realizes why he was shot and not killed.
They eventually get tazed by a bunch of “murder tourists”, foreigners who have specifically travelled to the States to become willing participants in The Purge, but like many a villain in a James Bond film, they yak too much which gives Williamson and Soria plenty of time to wipe them out before they hand the election over to the NFF. (They first spot them on the roof of their variety store which faces its own threats. An obnoxious teen who gets caught trying to steal a candy bar (I’m not making this up) uses that as an excuse to lead an attack on Williamson’s business.)
As always, Purging incidents provide the ugly soundtrack and background visuals for most scenes as our main characters walk around and ride around looking for a safe place to hide until the 12 hours of brainless mayhem are up. None of these moments are particularly scary. How can they be when none of this is particularly different from the earlier chapters in this series. As I noted in my review of Anarchy, it’s Assassination Porn and nothing more.
The Senator is determined to stop a secret rebel plot to assassinate the NFF’s leader, a super-religious conservative who enjoys making Purge sacrifices in church with his followers watching ever so intently, because she’s worried he’ll turn into a martyr. (She also worries America is “losing its soul”. That ship has sailed, Senator.) The true legality of such a killing is never a concern. And again, that’s been my biggest problem with this franchise. It seems highly unlikely that such a murderous policy would ever be legal without a ruthless resistance in the first place. When you consider the worldwide outrage over President Donald Trump’s Executive Order to temporarily end the influx of refugees from seven mostly-Muslim countries, which has thus far been curbed because of a court ruling, the idea of a Purge happening is very remote indeed. That said, any politician who thinks the soul of a country can be saved after it allows such a terrible policy to flourish for a quarter century is kidding themselves. You can’t revive what’s already dead.
The Purge: Election Year ends pretty much the way you expect it, although I am wondering why Election Day is in May and not November. At any event, it seems pretty clear that we’re not yet finished with this thin, brain-dead concept. Another resistance is brewing. Too bad it’s not a real-life protest against this junky franchise.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 7, 2017