Is the enjoyable THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR worth the price of Blu-ray admission? Read on to find out.
Review by Matt Cummings
For a film series like Director James DeMonaco’s THE PURGE, one might not expect the feast of ultra-violence to grow into something more mature. And yet that’s exactly what’s happened here. If THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR proves one thing, it’s that an amoral society, pushed to its limits, can create something far worse while thinking that new thing is far superior to anything else. That might sound very similar to our current political debate, but let’s hope that the similarities end there. Unfortunately, its rather pedestrian home release doesn’t exactly fill us with an overwhelming need to recommend it.
As the nation once again prepares for Purge Night, the “New Founding Fathers of America” – those who created this night of organized mayhem – aren’t exactly celebrating. There is worry that the nation’s once-a-year cleansing has lost inertia, forwarded by accusations that it targets the poor to keep welfare costs and other social programs down. But The Purge is also finding critics in the form of survivor Sen. Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who now leads a group demanding a halt to the event. Wishing to see her growing influence end, the NFFA creates a new rule: all citizens (including government officials) can now be hunted on Purge Night. As dark forces close in to eliminate her, Roan throws down her ace card: the bodyguard/head of security Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), a fellow Purge survivor who also finds the event repulsive. As Roan’s collection of anti-Purge patriots grows, Leo and Charlie battle the NFFA it to end the event’s madness once and for all.
THE PURGE: ANARCHY was a marked improvement over Director James DeMonaco’s 2013 release, which only served as hunter/hunted visual fare. THE PURGE: ANARCHY legitimized the series with Grillo’s compelling backstory, setting us down a path to franchise no-brainer. But while ELECTION YEAR employs many of the same elements of unchecked gore, it also stands as more of a political thriller and acute social commentary than anything else. Audiences were initially taken off guard at DeMonaco’s message, but seeing it now in home release makes the film even better. This is no longer about torture porning your despised neighbor, but an all-too familiar message about the political fracturing that’s occurred as we spiral towards the presidential election. Roan clearly takes the side of Democrat, her views in stark contrast with the NFFA’s rather radical Republican Trump tendencies. The result mostly works, although some will counter that their real PURGE has disappeared.
While Grillo is still very effective, his role is limited to protector/defender: we see flashes of his former tormented self from THE PURGE: ANARCHY, but he’s now a clearly different – and I’d say better – person. And while it’s fun to see him back, this series is no longer just about him: THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR works mostly because of Mitchell, who wants to see America returned to a sense of normalcy and has found support among Leo and a growing opposition movement. She’s matured into a leader who smells the NFFA corruption at the center of Purge Night, which makes her immensely likeable. Mitchell and Grillo have immediate chemistry, and their bickering feels like it goes back years. It helps to prop up other issues from which the film suffers, some of which were baked into the film’s original premise.
THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR has always been B-movie thriller fare, content to exist in a universe where ultra-violence is the order of the day. That sort of wanton destruction was more of a fetish for audiences, but this third incarnation by DeMonaco sadly falls into a predictable pattern. We know Charlie will be targeted several times, including during a decently-effective climax, and that Leo and his new-found team will somehow carry the day. It doesn’t risk anything by confining itself into this tightly-confined pattern, but again it’s the performances that keep involved. Leo’s ‘crew’ – including shop owner Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson), his loyal immigrant employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and friend Laney (Betty Gabriel) – have just enough development for us to empathize with their reasons not to purge without banging on a soapbox to do it. But ELECTION YEAR won’t win any awards for script or action, as it’s just not in its DNA.
Universal Studios’ THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR offers a solid but unimpressive MPEG4-AVC transfer. It was shot using Arri Alexa XT Plus technology, which means the source is all digital and therefore a little flat. But it also displays nice details and clarity, showing off skin textures and clothing quite well. Even though most of this was shot outdoors, we can see hair follicles and threads in clothing, along with realistic-looking blood and sweat. Color is balanced and varied for the environments, including the stark contrast of Joe’s store vs Roan’s home. Blacks and shadows have a hard time here, occasionally disappearing into crush too early and often. I doubt cinephiles are going to notice due to the nature of the franchise, but it appears that the inconsistencies are due to DeMonaco’s camerawork and not from an error on Universal’s part. And with no banding or edge enhancement present, I’m willing to give this competent but unremarkable transfer a pass.
THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR provides us with much the same auditory experience as it does the visual. Its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is consistent but again unremarkable. I didn’t remember hearing a lot of surround during its theatrical run, but the lack of it is noticeable in the home release. Violent moments do better than quiet ones, keeping the LFE busy but never pushing it. Punching, gunfire, and explosions are bettered here, but there still feels like moments when the chaos could have been more…well…chaotic. Again, that’s probably DeMonaco’s fault more than Universal’s, but I guess I was hoping more BOURNE ULTIMATUM. Universal has always done very well with siloing its dialogue to the center channel, and with ELECTION we are never straining to hear. Again, the overall effort is solid, but a larger canvas almost demands to be heard.
If THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR suffers perceptibly in one area, it’s the thoroughly disappointing supplements. For a film that made $111m on a $10m budget, one would have thought the execs at Universal would have made a better effort in this category. My main gripe is its lack of a director’s commentary. It appears that a 50GB disc was used here, which means there was still plenty of room for at least a commentary. At least all features are offered in HD:
- Deleted Scenes (8:05): Security Prep, Senator Roan’s Home, Purge Montage, Romantics, Partners, The Triage Van, and Searching for the Senator.
- Inside The Purge (5:31): A typical EPK offering, we get only periphery insights from cast and crew about the franchise’s growth, the deeper political and social messages behind the movie, and strengths which DeMonaco brings.
- Character Spotlight: Leo (3:34): Leo’s character takes front and center here. It’s perhaps the best of the supplements.
Our evaluation copy arrived as a Blu-ray Combo Pack, complete with a DVD a UV/iTunes digital copy. The textured and embossed slipcase is a nice addition, and there is no interior artwork. At the time of this posting, we are unaware of any special editions in the United States.
DeMonaco has created a satisfying trilogy based around what could happen if we allow of our current political system to continue in its dysfunctional way. It frankly could have lost steam by now, but any hope that we’ll get a fourth don’t look promising, even if the end of THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR suggests otherwise. It feels like the franchise is maturing right in front of us, reminding us that good film can serve as mirror into our society. And yet, it’s hard to recommend such a pedestrian release for purchase. It’s better to see this perhaps as a digital release provided you can get it for a greatly-reduced rate rather than buying it outright. The lack of supplements and overall unimpressive nature of the transfer won’t make anyone stand up to take notice, so you might be better to wait for an expanded version or for the impending ubiquitous box set.
THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR is rated R for disturbing bloody violence and strong language and has a runtime of 105 minutes.