'The Purge: Election Year' review: Best of the violent, chaotic franchise so far

'The Purge: Election Year' review: Best of the violent, chaotic franchise so far

 "The Purge: Election Year" opens in theaters July 1. (Photo courtesy Universal Pictures, used with permission.)

"The Purge: Election Year" opens in theaters July 1. (Photo courtesy Universal Pictures, used with permission.)

"The Purge" action-slasher franchise is many things - fun, silly, violent and chaotic - but it has never been known for its nuance or subtly. But "The Purge: Election Year" (opening in theaters nationwide July 1) manages to finally combine its high-concept carnage with social themes.

In short: Upstart presidential candidate Sen. Charlene Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) vows end The Purge - an annual, nationwide event when all crimes, including murder, are legal for 12 hours. While it is promoted as a catharsis of anger, Roan believes the Purge is designed to cut social program spending by killing off the poor. Her political opponents plot to murder Roan on Purge night. Frank Grillo, Mykelti Williamson and Joseph Julian Soria also star. (Watch the trailer)

"The Purge" is the exception to the rule of film sequels - this franchise gets better with each sequel. The first film established a world entrenched in the annual Purge - but it was just a high-concept slasher at best. Its sequel, "The Purge: Anarchy," revealed the larger scope of the annual night of murder and mayhem, while also introducing some ham-handed social themes -- but alas, "Anarchy" was too stupid to convey its larger message. "Election Day" works as a fun action-slasher that carries some grimly prescient social commentary.

First and foremost, "Election Day" works as a basic action flick. Its fairly simple premise - that powerful people want a controversial presidential candidate dead - drives the action from start to finish. Roan and her head of security must survive the night, evading a squad of trained assassins as well as the everyday psychos partaking in the freedom of legalized murder. Like everything else about this franchise, even the villains are over-the-top -- from the zealots preaching the virtues of the Purge to the tactical hitmen, whose body armor is covered in swastikas and tattoos. (Note for future installments: please expand the homicidal maniacs beyond the faceless, mask-wearing horde of muted, creepy murderers.)

Combining the film's survival horror core with the social themes elevates "Election Year" above its predecessors. This is finally a fleshed-out world, filled with those who revel in the Purge's bloodshed, whose who righteously believe in its tenets and those who soundly reject it as anything but murderous class warfare. Most survival horror flicks are small - but if Sen. Roan dies, so does the last solid chance for the U.S. to abolish the Purge. Intertwining the social commentary with the action-horror aspects means "Election Year" is more than just about surviving the night.

The simple, but crazy, premise of "The Purge" films is absurd enough to feel safely unbelievable ... until its grounded social commentary connects the absurd premise to modern day political talking points. The "Purge," with its caricature-like villains and its hyperbolic violence, exists in a world painted in broad strokes -- yet the unsettling truth is this cartoonish world is firmly based in extreme rhetoric heard daily in our real world on every 24-hour cable news network. "Election Year" works because its extreme premise is founded in very timely sentiments regarding social programs, the poor and a suspicion the "top one percent" only care about profits.

Final verdict: "Election Year" is a fun, carnage-filled and eerily timely romp that somehow feels fantastical and yet entirely possible. 

Score: 3/5

"The Purge: Election Year" opens in theaters nationwide July 1. This film is rated R for disturbing bloody violence and strong language and has a running time of 105 minutes.



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