I have often said that I would rather walk through the scariest ghetto in the world at 2 a.m. than face a mall full of teenage girls at any time of day. So it’s about time someone took advantage of the terror many of us middle-aged white males feel by creating a scary seventeen year old villainess. The Purge: Election Year features lots of villains; the 17-year-old is just one of many. But for me, she is the most terrifying.
The Purge franchise is not something I would normally go out of my way to see. I don’t like horror films, as a general rule. But I do enjoy sharp writing, moral conflict, and thrilling mystery. This film, the third in the series, features all of the above. It is, in fact, much better than it has any right to be.
Twenty years ago, presidential candidate Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) watched her family murdered during the annual Purge, a national holiday where all crime is allowed, even murder. The New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) believe that this is the best way to curb crime 364 days per year – by allowing people to act out their inner rage once a year if they wish.
The societal elite have security systems and are protected due to their resources. The poor, working class are at risk more than others, which is one of the many reasons the good senator is gaining momentum in the polls. Her chief of security, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo, back from The Purge: Anarchy), finds her desire to be accessible to the people frustrating – and in the case of Purge-night, it’s downright dangerous. She has lots of political enemies, all of which look to lose a lot of money should she become president and outlaw the annual event.
She has a fan in Marco (Joseph Julian Soria), a Mexican immigrant working for Joe (Mykelti Williamson) at his convenience store. Laney (Betty Rucker) hangs out there, too, as Joe showed her kindness when she was a trouble teen who tried to shoplift from him. She’s got a reputation on the streets and as we see, it’s well deserved. Joe’s store is in danger every year; he is in the kind of neighborhood where the Purge sees tons of activity and his insurance premiums just went up.
These characters meet during hours before the yearly murder spree and are forced to join forces to help one another. It’s serendipitous, but not contrived.
I mentioned those terrifying teenage girls: Brittany Mirable shines in a small role (“Schoolgirl #1”) but brings everything that scares men like me to life with a rich and startling performance. Also outstanding in a minor role is Kyle Secor, the other candidate for President, who oozes insincerity and evil, preaching Purge and Purify (it’s the Hope and Change of the NFFA).
This is a horror movie but it’s also a mystery. It’s an action thriller. It’s a drama. It’s a comedy. And it’s much better than it has any right to be. The moral conflict raised by the premise of The Purge itself is well-reconciled with the focus on the election and there’s no question who the “good guys” are.
Even still, there’s enough intrigue, suspense, and well-crafted storytelling to get my vote.
Director: James Demonaco
Writer: James Demonaco
Notable Cast: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Terry Serpico, Edwin Hodge