Sobering political reality trumps blood-saturated fiction in the third instalment of James DeMonaco’s horror series, set in a dystopian America where every March, murder is legalised for 12 hours to sate the population’s bloodlust and reduce crime levels for the rest of the year.
The original film, released in 2013, was a guilty pleasure fusing nail-biting tension with explosions of violence.
A gruesome follow-up, The Purge Anarchy, fell short of expectations and now The Purge: Election Year polls a similarly lukewarm response by attempting to skewer the American political establishment.
Unfortunately, the real-life horror show of the 2016 race for the White House – a contest dripping with bile and intolerance – is far more disturbing than anything writer-director DeMonaco can conjure on screen for his beleaguered characters.
A potentially delicious subplot – the influx of murder tourists, who travel to America on Purge night to commit unspeakable crimes that are forbidden in their own countries – is undernourished.
Eighteen years after her entire family was slaughtered on Purge night, Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is poised to narrowly win the 2022 Presidential election by campaigning on a promise to end the annual cull.
Her rival, Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor), is a believer in the Purge and has the backing of the New Founding Fathers (NFF), the shadowy political hierarchy led by Caleb Warrens (Raymond J Barry).
These men and women in tailored suits are distressed by the possibility of Roan winning over the electorate and they plot to eliminate her.
Warrens masterminds a scheme to undermine the security measures put in place by the Senator’s trusted bodyguard and protector, Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo).
Meanwhile, as the 7pm siren to signal the start of the Purge approaches, hard-working shop owner Joe Dickson and his assistant Marcos have an ill-fated run-in with two thieving schoolgirls that they might regret, when the blood-letting begins in earnest.
The Purge: Election Year is one hack ‘n’ slash too far for DeMonaco’s neat premise. Plotting is flimsy and characters are thinly sketched. Fans of earlier films will get their kicks from the gory set pieces but the lack of new ideas and directorial verve is palpable.
It’s time for a complete reshuffle behind the cameras.