It’s hard to think of a recent genre movie series with more squandered potential than The Purge movies. If this instalment provides a conclusion to a firm trilogy then it’s a perfectly adequate trio of nastiness and nightmarish imagery. But, as hinted at throughout, it could have been so much more than that. There’s some incisive commentary, so well hidden in the first film that it only becomes obvious during what feels like a footnote to the third act, but the balance never feels right. To be fair, some people may say that if you’re not noticing the commentary while watching the movies then that means that writer-director James DeMonaco has got things absolutely right. But when you see the heights he reached with the fantastic The Purge: Anarchy then you see just how good this series should/could have been throughout. And with this third instalment subtitled Election Year . . . . . . . . . . . viewers would be right to expect things to develop into something even more intriguing and politically charged.
That looks to be the case as the movie begins, introducing viewers to a politician (Senator Charlie Roan, played by Elizabeth Mitchell) who is determined to end The Purge, once and for all. It is becoming more and more apparent to people that this one night of the year is being made to pare down the numbers of the lower classes and make some major profit. Senator Roan is looked after by a security team, headed up by Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), a man who absolutely agrees with her after his own particular experience – which we all saw in the second movie. And Barnes will have his work cut out for him, because the Senator wants to spend the upcoming Purge night in a normal home environment. Neither character realises how far the enemies of the Senator will go to stop her from winning. But they’re about to find out.
As well as those already mentioned, we get a decent man trying to look after his workplace (Joe Dixon, played by Mykelti Williamson), a woman who risks life and limb during The Purge to help the wounded (Laney, played by Betty Gabriel), and the return of Edwin Hodge, arguably the most important figure to cast a shadow over the entire trilogy, despite his limited presence.
DeMonaco sets things up well enough. The opening infodump is especially well done, presented as a standard news piece keeping viewers up to date with the election campaign so far, and the pieces are all moved into place just in time for the sirens to go as the start of The Purge is announced. And that is when things start to unravel.
I suspect that, in an attempt to not get bogged down with the political thread, DeMonaco wrote himself one or two more characters than he actually needed, making a few of the main characers feel rather superfluous. They’re not bad characters, and Dixon is a particularly wothy addition to the roster, but a number of people feel like they’re present just to join the plot points, as opposed to being people worth actually caring about.
The action subsequently suffers, with the screen often being full of people that viewers aren’t invested in. Everything improves when things focus back on Mitchell and Grillo, who are both very good in their main roles. Yet, here and there, it’s also the small moments aside from the main action that provide some great imagery and feelings of dread. People revelling in their Purge-endorsed crimes, the sadistic glee evident on the faces of those making the most of their night, the masks and costumes.
Purge night is one full of screams, blood, flames, and all of the people you never want to bump into in the middle of the night. But, cinematically, it also needs a clear path for viewers to travel along. This film doesn’t have that. It’s muddied, it doesn’t feel entirely logical, and it’s overcrowded. But it’s still got enough good individual moments to make it worth your time.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: JAMES DEMONACO
STARS: FRANK GRILLO, ELIZABETH MITCHELL, MYKELTI WILLIAMSON, BETTY GABRIEL, JOSEPH JULIAN SORIA, EDWIN HODGE
RUNTIME: 109 MINS APPROX
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