In the United States, a bitter political battleground is underway over the continuation of the Purge, an annual event in which all crime, including murder, is legal for a 12 hour period.
One former Purge survivor, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), has dedicated her life and career to ending the Purge and is at the precipice of taking the presidency. Certain government officials who benefit financially from the Purge, however, are making it a priority to shut the senator up. Permanently.
To be fair, this is the most expository plot that a Purge movie has given us to date. However, it is a forced topical appeal that falls resoundingly flat and largely incompetent.
For what it’s worth, though, The Purge series has never claimed to be logical. At the very least, this installment finally addresses the booming mask-selling industry that this universe must have.
The film begins with false jump scares coming on the heels of sudden silence, and thus a complete lack of tension. This trend continues throughout the movie. The suspense that this film desperately needs to hold water is strikingly absent.
I think the biggest fallacy of The Purge premise, of which there are many fallacies, is that villain characters as psychotic as the ones in these films would not wait until Purge night to start murdering people.
Why can’t we get a tense Purge thriller in which a character severely distraught over the murder of a family member seeks vengeance (with real narrative stakes) on Purge night? We would then get a normal sane person who uses Purge night for, say, actual purgation in the form of violent catharsis. The evil and nameless masked individuals that wreak havoc on protagonists of the Purge films are boring and ill-conceived. Just because you talk with a creepy inflection does not mean you are playing a good villain.
As for our heroes, they are much more redeemable. They have distinct personalities, some of which are fairly fun to watch. Mykelti Williamson plays a store owner who wants nothing more than to keep his shop from being looted during the night, and he is easily the most charismatic performance of the lot, breathing life into a narrative world that would otherwise be taking itself way too seriously.
Frank Grillo is still enjoyable as a gruff and stoic security detail for the senator. The lead herself, however, is less than stellar, coming off rather wooden in the depiction of a passionate politician.
The Purge: Election Year fails in the one department it desperately needs to succeed in to be a viable horror-action-thriller: tension. While things certainly like to jump across the screen or slink around in the shadows, the stakes of the situation never feels palpable enough for the viewer to really foster a connection with the characters on screen. If the Purge franchise continues to rely on its premise as its sole source of creepy horror currency, it will surely shrivel up within the next few installments.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)