The Purge: Election Year Review

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The Purge: Election Year is a horror film released in North America on July 1st, 2016. It was directed by James DeMonaco and stars Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell and Mykelti Williamson (@mykeltiwmson).

Calling the third instalment in the Purge franchise “Election Year”, releasing it on the July 4th weekend and making the tagline “keep America great” was a brilliant marketing move that capitalised on the current drama surrounding the bid for the American presidency. It especially calls out the republican nominee Donald Trump. But Election Year is so much more than just a marketing move. Underneath, it is a politically charged movie both in its presentation of a tumultuous, dystopian future America but also as a commentary on the current presidential race. In fact, Election Year is so blatant in its connections to the rise of racist and elitist politics in the United States, I would say that the movie is attempting to suggest that a future America where Trump is president would not look too different from the America presented in the Election Year. And that poignant, terrifying suggestion is what takes The Purge: Election Year from a typical trope-laden action flick to a thought-provoking commentary on the current state of America.

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The main antagonists in Election Year are the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA). The NFFA are backed by the NRA, wealthy elites, corrupt insurance companies and confederate flag, swastika brandishing white supremacists. There is no subtlety in Election Year‘s messaging: hate is the enemy. The parallels between Election Year‘s America and what we’re seeing with the current election cycle in the USA are quite evident. These groups are incredibly powerful and gaining more traction all of the time  Together they embody the hateful circumstances that could see America move towards a future where, like in the Purge, the white and wealthy eliminate everyone else through despicable legalities like, oh I don’t know, deporting whole religions or segregating different ethnicities with physical walls.

With the bad guys established, the good guys are basically drawn from each of the victimised groups. Small business owner and African American Joe (Mykelti Williamson) is protecting his shop with his employee and Mexican immigrant Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria) on Purge night. They’re joined by African American Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel) who comes to their aid when their shop is under attack. Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) who has been campaigning to end the Purge and gaining lots of traction with her campaign for the presidency is forced out of her home on Purge night. She and her bodyguard Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) are attacked on the street in front of Joe’s business. Joe and Marcos save her and chose to dedicate their night to protecting the hopeful presidential nominee. The good guys, now formed of two African Americans, a Mexican Immigrant and female politician, take charge of the action and fight back against, well, the rich white men.

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The action in Election Year is riveting, from thrilling fights to tense stand-offs. Unlike previous Purge movies where class 10 politicians were spared, in Election Year this rule has been abandoned, making so that no one is safe on Purge night. Any character could die at any moment and this knowledge creates a sense of dread at each encounter between the protagonists and anyone celebrating their Purge evening in a gory costume armed to the teeth with terrifying weapons. And that’s another area where Election Year succeeds. With this Purge movie, the annual celebration has evolved to a global phenomenon drawing “murder tourists” from other countries who wish to spend an evening murdering and purging. The costumes and weapons have evolved too. Purgers are dressed in full George Washington garb, statue of liberty with lights, pigs with hacksaws and plenty of other ridiculous yet intimidating costumes. Costumes design adds a lot to the scares and thrills of Election Year, and lead costume designer Elisabeth Vastola should be applauded for her fine work.

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Election Year‘s statement stretches beyond politics. The finale takes place in a Catholic church where the NFFA are holding their annual Purge festivities. The event is eerily similar to an actual church service, of which I have attended many. A preacher spews rhetoric from the front while a congregation smiles onward singing hallelujah and lifting their arms. They all begin to chant in unison “Purge and Purify!” This scene evokes a familiar feeling in anyone whose been to church, seeing everyone standing and talking in unison. But Election Year warps it into an almost cult-like setting. The statement being made is that the church, while not in charge, definitely carries weight with the citizens of America and is not implicit in what is happening but almost enables it.

Election Year’s message also captures the class struggle that currently dominates America. The American dream is more like an American scheme in Election Year’s America but to an extent real America too. The elite families and mega-corporations have the majority of the country’s wealth and continue to accumulate more, leaving less and less for everyone else. We see this in Joe’s struggle to keep his small deli open despite insurance companies trying to rip him off and the rising price of security and Purge protection. The wealth gap depicted in Election Year is just as real in America today.

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The Purge: Election Year, while being an action movie, is so much more than just that. It’s a statement as well as a warning. Its statement is that when we let hate win it leads to a terrifying and broken world. Its warning is that hate is winning. With Trump gaining support in the U.S.A. and trends towards discrimination and fear growing worldwide we need to take a good long look at what’s happening. From Islamophobia in light of terrorist attacks to racial profiling and police murders of black citizens, there is a reason to be concerned and a desperate need for action. We need to be better, otherwise, we may end up in a world not too different than the one in the Purge and that prospect is what makes The Purge truly terrifying.

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