America, 2025. As public sentiment rises against the Purge, ruling class the New Founding Fathers Of America target Presidential candidate Charlotte Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who’s lobbying to end the annual lawless mayhem. She’ll need help from Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) if she’s to survive the night.
With his scary vision of a near-future United States where all crime is legal for one night in order to keep the peace the rest of the year, writer/director James DeMonaco has crafted a successful, thrifty franchise. As real-world America slides further into electoral madness, the latest Purge feels more apt than ever, even as it ramps up the terrifying politics and the slow-motion violence.
Mitchell and Grillo give the lead roles their all – no time for love when you’re on the run from a skull-emblazoned drone.
Election Year veers dangerously close to coming off as a remake of 2014’s first follow-up, Anarchy: we’re once again out on the streets (this time Washington, DC as opposed to Los Angeles, though it could really be ‘Anycity, USA’ and was shot in Providence, Rhode Island) as our heroes try to find safety. Barnes, Grillo’s reliably relatable tough guy, must this time shepherd Mitchell’s determined Roan through the madness to keep her political chances — and, more importantly, her — alive. The added wrinkle here is that the rule protecting governmental people has been relaxed, and the New Founding Fathers have not only paid off a chunk of her security detail, they’ve also sent a mercenary team to take her out. Roan and Barnes are soon confronting both their heavily armed pursuers and anyone else looking to have a little illegal fun.
Mitchell and Grillo give the lead roles their all, and fortunately don’t have to go down the romance route — no time for love when you’re on the run from a skull-emblazoned drone. And, to his credit, DeMonaco has some fun finding new ways for people to be terrorised, including Mykelti Williamson and Joseph Julian Soria as store owners who have to deal with some particularly vengeful female shoplifters denied a quick grab-and-run during the daylight hours.
Then there’s Betty Gabriel’s Laney, an ex-gang member-turned-freelance medical tech who offers her services during the period that the regular emergency services are shut down. While DeMonaco falls prey to a few of the archetypes we’ve seen many times before (especially plucky locals defending their property), there are enough layers to this lot that you don’t mind tagging along with them. The group ends up meeting political activist Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge, a veteran of both previous films, though normally seen as one of the masked vigilantes causing chaos), who runs a secret underground shelter for the homeless and those who don’t have the funds to protect themselves.
The haves-versus-have-nots theme is one that ran through the previous movies, but it’s especially pronounced in Election Year, which makes sense given the current political climate. There are more sharp jabs to be found here, particularly the idea that the people in charge can change the rules to suit themselves on a whim and are using religious screeds to back up their twisted point of view. This said, it would help if the message were delivered in a way that didn’t reduce everything to the sort of comic-book clash Marvel or DC would view as simplistic. The idea of the New Founding Fathers is scary enough without having to turn them into a pack of psychopaths who possess all the nuance of a panto villain twirling his moustache and riling up the audience before the big sing-along.
Election Year maintains the nervy tension that made the first films entertaining, but doubles down on the political metaphors, overwhelming you with its soap-box rhetoric.