The Purge, Election Year review: Brutal satire takes on US electoral process

In this US presidential election, a megalomaniac battles his female opponent with violence in the air

The Purge: Election Year
    
Cert: 16
Genre: Action
Starring: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, David Aaron Baker, Kyle Secor, Ethan Phillips
Running Time: 1 hr 49 mins

As huge movie franchises tanked and the presidential campaign lunged deeper into apocalyptic absurdity, a fascinating pop-cultural phenomenon remained largely unreported by the grown-up media.

One of the most profitable films of the US summer (when ranked by ratio of takings to budget) turned out to be a brutal, cake-and-eat-it satire of the US electoral process.

While a megalomaniac argues in favour of guns, rogue capitalism and institutionalised intolerance, his female opponent desperately seeks to move the conversation back to the centre.

The candidates are very different from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The villain is a sleek establishment figure who, though profane in private, speaks smoothly in front of the cameras. His opponent is a young senator whose family was slaughtered some years previously. It is, nonetheless, hard to remember when a mainstream hit trimmed so close to the political battle during an election year.

The closing part of James DeMonaco’s Purge trilogy returns to a canny scenario that allows any amount of baroque mayhem. In the near future, the US government suspends rule of law for one night in every calendar year. The “New Founding Fathers” argue that the resulting mayhem allows citizens to purge themselves of violence. We know that the ulterior motive is to thin out the socially excluded and save on welfare bills. (Okay that wouldn’t really work, but nor would much of Gulliver’s Travels. Just stay with it.)

This year, senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is running for president on a promise to abolish Purge Night.

As the shutters go down and the alarm is sounded, we realise that her opponents have infiltrated her security detail. Following a conflagration, she ends up on the streets with a huddle of largely African-American citizens.

Election Year is not exactly subtle, but it is stirring to see a marquee film have a crack at America’s violent malaise. This time round, laying off the self-laceration for a moment, the film-makers have foreigners – “murder tourists” – arriving in Washington to join in the fun.

What fun it is. A woman in diaphanous robes dances around bodies hanging from trees. More corpses are strapped to cars. Villains dress as grotesque versions of Uncle Sam. Why, it’s almost as if we movie-goers are savouring the violence in a film that professes to critique the savouring of violence.

I’m fairly sure DeMonaco grasps the delicious inconsistency. It’s the best of the series so far.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist