Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Purge: Election Year

   Frank Grillo is back and so are the freaks. The Purge: Election Year is more of the same stuff we got from Anarchy, and I'm not disappointed. A bit underwhelmed maybe, but c'est la vie. If you're expecting a movie that improves on it's predecessor as much as The Purge: Anarchy did, you're fresh out of luck. Election Year has the same shortcomings as Anarchy, but they feel slightly more prominent. The movie's concept, it's core idea, and it's entire marketing scheme promises widespread chaos and carnage. Where's it at? Election Year is less concerned with delivering on it's promise of insanity and violence and more about sending a message.

   I like Grillo's character, and it's undeniably cool to see him in action again, but the movie around him is rather ho-hum and deeply flawed. Yet, I find it interesting to deconstruct these movies, why they work when they do, and why they don't when... well, they don't. When the streets are flooded with crazies in homemade psycho outfits, blasting music and toting guns, it works. This is the kind of depravity the movie promises with it's very central concept. When the movie gets hung up on it's more good-natured characters, it doesn't. The good people in the movie spend so much time moping about the purge that you'd think it's a new thing.

   "How did we get to this?" one of the main characters muses to herself. Does she ask that every year? Because according to the movie, purge night has been a national holiday for over 20 years at this point. Probably a lot longer, my recollection of the franchise's timeline is fuzzy. So why is everyone acting like this is some fresh tragedy? This is institution at this point. This is 1984, people. The movie is at odds with itself, because the writers can't figure out quite how to make this concept work. Purge Night should be normal to all these people. Nation-wide carnage for one night a year? How are people not spending the other 364 days preparing for that one night?

   We're shown in glimpses how insane it gets. These are undeniably the grisly highlights of the movie. People beaten and bloodied, strapped to the hood of a speeding car. Tourists from other countries who come here just to purge, decked out in demonic looking U.S.A. costumes, people who've set up a guillotine in an alleyway. It's stuff like that, that shocking imagery, that makes the movie tick. But, there's not nearly enough of it, and the rest of the characters never react accordingly. Was everyone just under a rock for 20 years? These images should be commonplace to them, and their jadedness should be unsettling to us- the audience.

   But instead we're fed the same tired party line every two minutes. "This night sucks, I hate this night. How did we get to this?" You fuckers have had decades to figure that shit out. If the filmmakers want us to buy into a concept as wildly absurd as this, they gotta start world building differently. Because the people in these movies seem way too damn normal. It's distracting. Sure, it's sad, it's tragic, but these people have got to be jaded by now. I would've loved to have seen a bit where two survivors are just trading stories about the messed up stuff they've seen on past purge nights. Ideas like that would take this franchise a lot further.

   Election Year's heavy handed socio-political commentary is doled out in dry scenes with paper-thin characters delivering plain dialog, clearly stating their intentions and beliefs. It's fine and dandy, I guess, but it weighs down a movie that could've been almost cathartic. Election Year simply needed more craziness, and less talking. These movies should be gauntlets of horrific and disturbing set pieces, each eclipsing the last in scale and creativity. But, they're not. They're adequate fun for what they are, but they never quite reach the full potential that the concept promises.

   The politics should be in the violence on display, but by trying to juggle both politics and violence, separately, evenly and bluntly, both are cheapened. Is this a political thriller, or an action-horror movie? Because while it sits divided, it's not doing either thing particularly well. Only Frank Grillo gets out of this mess with as much cred as he went into it with. His character is a badass and one that's fun to watch. As are the crazy purgers that the movie is marketed around. It's sad how these psychotic antagonists are tossed aside so quickly and never thought of again. If you saw a cool and creepy character on one of the posters for the movie, don't expect much of them in the movie. They get purged real fast.

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