In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s an election happening in the US this year. Early advertising suggested that this third movie in the Purge series would be leaning heavily into a political satire angle to capitalise on this timing which on paper, sounds like a really good idea. The series started with a good premise but mediocre execution but managed to significantly improve with its second instalment. Adding a relevant political sub-text could have been just the thing to allow writer-director James DeMonaco’s series to reach its full potential.
Unfortunately, as I begun watching The Purge: Election Year it dawned on me that it was likely written over a year ago and couldn’t be too timely. The political aspect, while instigating the main thrust of the story, proves to be largely superficial. It finds two rival presidential candidates running on a platform in which the annual purge is a central issue. The progressive candidate Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), whose family were killed in an earlier purge when she was a child, wants to abolish it while the conservative one wants to keep it alive and well.
Knowing that Senator Roan is gaining popularity, the ruling government decides to change the rule that top politicians are immune from purge night laws in with the express hope that someone will assassinate Roan, while she herself realises that if she flees and hides in a secure location “like some rich asshole” on purge night, she’ll lose a significant amount of her voter base. So far, so good for a Purge sequel then, even if the right-wing candidate is extreme even by our current standards, literally participating in human sacrificial ceremonies, it’s a decent set-up.
It only amounts for a small chunk of the film though, once Purge night actually begins it becomes a much less interesting affair. Senator Roan is of course soon attacked and it’s up to her head of security (Frank Grillo, reprising his role from Anarchy) to help her survive as she’s left out in the danger of the open streets.
Though there are a few clever touches (Purge tourism is a thing now) and some memorable imagery, most of the film comes across as a rather unremarkable action-thriller that ultimately overstays its welcome. It’s by no means terrible but a step down from the mostly similar Anarchy. If this series is to continue, maybe it would be better for DeMonaco to move to a producing role and let another writer and/or director see what they can wring from this still potential-filled premise.