If horror reflects the fears of the time it is made, then the three films which comprise The Purge are a terrible indictment of modern America, the first charting the absolute meltdown of the “nuclear family” dream of the baby boomers, while Anarchy was a savage condemnation of the deference of government to corporate interests, the poor and minorities disposable fodder in the relentless pursuit of profit.
Now comes Election Year, taking the action sixteen years forward from the events of Anarchy, in the lead up to the twenty fifth annual purge since the New Founding Fathers of America took control and initiated “the night that saved this country from ruin,” but the NFFA’s candidate, the icy Minister Edwidge Owens (Veronica Mars‘ Kyle Secor) has a challenger.
Sole survivor and witness to the murder of her entire family eighteen years previously, Senator Charlie Roan (V‘s Elizabeth Mitchell), has fought against the NFFA and the purge her whole life, pointing out that the night of legalised murder is driven by economics, eliminating the poor to cut welfare and healthcare expenditure and that it must be rescinded: “The soul of our country is at stake.”
Rising in popularity with the election scarcely two months away, Senator Roan is a genuine threat to the elite of the NFFA, a group almost entirely composed of middle aged white men who sit in silent, echoing chambers where all they hear are their own voices reflected back as they decide it is time for “spring cleaning.”
Revoking the caveat that high level government officials are protected, they begin to make arrangements for the removal of Senator Roan, her only protection when her home is attacked former police sergeant Leo Barnes (Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s Frank Grillo reprising his then-unnamed role from Anarchy) and the anti-purge street team who rescue them, Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson), Marcos Dalie (Joseph Julian Soria), and Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel) and Dawn (Liza Colón-Zayas). Together they must make it through the night until law is restored at the seven o’clock siren.
If the satire is less biting than the previous films, with targets as broad as a barn door finesse would be superfluous. With the American electoral system already almost a parody of democracy without this distorting lens which casts it as a dehumanising cult celebrating and glorifying violence and murder as a purifying ritual, the confirmation that church and state are waltzing down the aisle hand in hand to oblivion is no surprise.
The gloves are off and no punches are pulled as Senator Roan specifically names the National Rifle Association as an organisation complicit in the blood money of the purge even as Joe criticises his insurance company who have called only hours before commencement to extort thousands of dollars in premiums he cannot afford if he wishes coverage through the night leaving him no alternative but to arm himself and protect what little he owns.
Wisely written and directed by James DeMonaco as a conclusion to the series he created rather than overstretching it as so many horror franchises do, there are plot holes and contrivances but not so glaring as to derail the thundering train of events in what is very much a by-the-numbers thriller, but in contrast to those who hunt them Roan and her new friends are warm and likeable and there is a constant awareness that inevitably it will be their hot blood splashed on the streets.
Threat is everywhere, hiding around every corner, within every shadow, and the most terrifying aspect of the film is how primal it feels without ever being more than a step away from genuine news headlines of urban riots, of police brutality, of the inequality of justice, of politicians who build their platform on baiting racist sentiment and standing back as the flames they have fanned catch and take hold.
The hideous face of predatory capitalism, those on the street are pawns whose petty grudges will set them against each other as those above manipulate the grotesque carnival, the NFFA setting their hired army bedecked in swastikas, Confederate flags and white power symbols to hunt Roan and Barnes, yet despite the lack of subtlety it is likely many will still fail to get the point.
The Purge: Election Year is now on general release