‘The Purge: Election Year’ Review | American Horror Story
James DeMonaco’s ongoing series The Purge is a unique and towering spire on the contemporary horror landscape. It may not always be great, but it is the only still-running horror franchise that actually feels dangerous.
The Purge and its two sequels take place in a near, dystopian future where the conservative government has placated the masses by declaring an annual holiday when all crime is legal. The already-easily outraged American citizens are given carte blanche to kill anybody they don’t like, one night out of the year, and it’s a system that disproportionately affects the poor, which boosts the nation’s economy. It is a blunt but savage social commentary that literalizes various liberal fears about the Republican Party, the One Percent, the NRA, internet trolls, you name it.
That’s why the third film in the series, The Purge: Election Year, is the most focused and salient installment yet. By telling the story of an idealistic presidential candidate targeted for assassination during the annual purge – and bringing her into an impoverished black and latino community that is struggling to survive the attacks – the social undertones of the series are brought right into the foreground. And when the huddled masses break free and start wholesale slaughtering the rich, white and powerful, The Purge once again reveals itself to be a vehicle for fascinating, albeit hypocritical catharsis.
The Purge: Election Year is a story about idealists who are confronted with real and violent cynicism. So we are obviously supposed to side with Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) and her true believing bodyguard Leo (Frank Grillo), because they want to end the purge forever. But then again, we are also supposed to cheer when the disenfranchised grab their automatic weapons and open fire on a room full of conservatives. It’s a violent disconnect. The Purge: Election Year is a film that appeals to our better angels while placating our vilest demons.
And while that contradiction would be a problem in most films, the outlandishly horrifying “reality” of The Purge – in which it seems like most average citizens would welcome take any excuse to turn into a homicidal Batman villain – keeps James DeMonaco’s perverse fantasies tidily inside of the horror genre. The irresponsibility inherent to visualizing these mass murder fantasies bears the unmistakable imprimatur of kitsch because the slaughter is so cartoonishly ludicrous. (Of course you’re not supposed to build your own guillotine. What are you, stupid?)
Even so, The Purge: Election Year satirizes and perverts so many real-life anxieties that one has to marvel that it even exists at all. Millions of dollars have been spent to make a film that openly hates millionaires, one that pokes at the exposed nerves of the audience and invites them to either enjoy the sensation or fight back against this nightmare. It is an outrageous political commentary for an era of outrage politics. It waffles between being completely irresponsible and completely necessary. And whether you love it or hate it, that’s definitely scary.
Top Photo: Universal Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.