Friday 9 September 2016

The Purge: Election Year (US 2016: Dir James DeMonaco)

While I generally dislike the term 'franchise' the fact that the three (to date) movies in the Purge series have been written and directed by the same person at least allows the audience to see how one man's vision (James DeMonaco) develops and expands his original concept.

2013's original The Purge, set in the year 2022, was essentially a 'home invasion' movie which largely squandered any opportunity to exploit the mayhem inherent in the fictional annual night of violence - where nearly all laws are suspended, including murder - by basing most of the film in one house. The following year's The Purge: Anarchy widened the action by taking it onto the streets and basing it around a couple whose car stalls minutes before the Purge's ominous sirens wail. It also introduced a character - Leo Barnes, out to avenge his son's death - who is pivotal in helping the couple and others to survive the night.

The Purge: Election Year, set in 2040, 21 years after the first Purge, shows a country divided, with the ruling 'New Founding Fathers of America' (NFFA), the devisers and supporters of the event, being challenged by presidential rival Charlie Roan, whose family were killed during one of the first Purges. Roan represents a growing band of anti Purgers who suspect that the liberation of the Purge event is a mask for class cleansing and cuts to welfare. The NFFA take the opportunity of relaxing a Purge rule whereby high government officials are exempted from being attacked during the event. Sensing Roan's life in danger, Leo Barnes, now chief of security to the senator, must keep the candidate alive, allying with various groups during the night.

The latest film in the (ugh) franchise looks to be its biggest budgeted yet. DeMonaco's direction has also grown in confidence. We're far from the tentative steps into Purge-land delivered in the original movie: The Purge: Election Year is a full-on actioner, reminiscent of the straight to video movies of the 1980s (usually dubbed for English audiences) where renegade bands of anti-heroes do battle in cities of the near future. DeMonaco also assumes his audience has seen the other Purge movies, and thankfully doesn't let any needless exposition get in the way of the action.

On the downside this is the longest of the three films and, at getting on for nearly two hours, it does rather sag in the middle. Once the overall theme of the film is established - tight situation, shoot out, new alliance with another group, another tight spot - your enjoyment of the movie is going to depend on how much you loved this type of film the first time round.

Watching The Purge: Election Year I was also struck how much the series is basically a more vicious version of The Hunger Games. The killing of humans in both sets of films is structured as an appeasement or as something with a higher purpose, the populace fooled into thinking that there is a good reason for the killing. Both (gak) franchises have a small but growing group of dissenters recognising the truth, and taking renegade action against dubious political types whose essential evilness contrasts with the good of the rebels, despite the violence they use to achieve their own ends.

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